Why Would A CIO Choose To NOT Use Robots?

Is there a situation where a CIO would choose to not deploy robots?
Is there a situation where a CIO would choose to not deploy robots?
Image Credit: dangthephong

Let’s face it, the robots are taking over. All people with the CIO job are aware of the advances that have been made in robotic technology over the past few years. It goes almost without saying that CIOs have spent the past few years looking at how their company does things with an eye to finding places where robots, who represent the importance of information technology, could be used to do things quicker, more accurately, and at a lower cost. Given that we’ve already made this investment, you wouldn’t think that there would be a situation where a CIO would take a step back and decide to not deploy robots, do you? Well guess what, it’s happening.

The Day That The Robots Went Away

One of the biggest retailers in the world is Walmart. For a very long time the Walmart CIO has been taking a close look at robots. Walmart stores are huge places with a lot of products loaded into them. Currently they use people to do everything. The Walmart CIO was trying to figure out how he might be able to introduce robots into his stores to take over some of the jobs that people have been doing. However, Walmart has announced that they are ending their effort to use roving robots in store aisles to keep track of their inventory, reversing a years long push to automate the task with the machines after finding during the coronavirus pandemic that humans can help get similar results.

The retail giant has ended its contract with a robotics company called Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., with which it joined over the past five years to gradually add six-foot-tall inventory-scanning machines to stores. In the past, Walmart had made the robots a frequent topic of conversation at media and investor events in recent years, hoping the technology could help reduce labor costs and increase sales by making sure products are kept in stock.

A World Without Robots

So why did Walmart decide not to implement robots in its stores? Walmart decided to end the partnership because it found different, sometimes simpler solutions that proved just as useful. As more shoppers flock to online delivery and pickup because of Covid-19 concerns, it turns out that Walmart has more workers walking the aisles frequently to collect online orders. This has allowed them to glean new data on inventory problems. The retailer is pursuing ways to use those workers who are already in the aisles to monitor product amounts and locations, as well as other automation technology.

In addition, the Walmart CIO has concerns about how shoppers might react to seeing a robot working in a store. Walmart said that the Bossa Nova robots would be in around 1,000 of its 4,700 U.S. stores. Over the past two years the retailer has said it would bring more automation to stores, characterizing the machines as robot “sidekicks” for store workers. The Bossa Nova robots were in about 500 stores when the partnership ended The good news for Walmart is that by working with the robots, they were able to learn a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience. Walmart’s plan going forward is to continue testing new technologies and investing in their own processes and apps to best understand and track their inventory and help move products to their shelves as quickly as they can.

Although having robots count what is on the shelves is no longer planned for Walmart stores that does not mean that robots will not play a role in Walmart’s future. Walmart continues to use other robots in stores. An example of this are the floor scrubbers that move through aisles alone. The reason that Walmart had been considering using robots to track its store shelves was because retailers like Walmart benefit from having a more accurate view of their inventory because sales rise when retailers can reduce out-of-stock items, keeping more products available when customers want to buy them. This knowledge would allow Walmart to provide a more precise picture of inventory for people who order online for pickup and delivery, services that are becoming more popular during the pandemic.

What All Of This Means For You

Just about every person in the CIO position has been told that robots are the future. Every CIO has been given the task to take a look at how their company currently operates. The goal is to find tasks that could be handed over to robots to perform. Walmart is one such company. They had realized that they had an issue with their shelves becoming empty and they had been considering using robots to provide them with real time inventory information. However, they have now changed their minds.

Walmart has just announced that they are wrapping up the effort that they had invested a great deal of time and money into. They had been planning on using robots in their stores to scan the shelves and determine when they were out of stock. However, they have now discovered that the people that they already have can do that job just as well as robots can. Walmart decided to not use the robots because they believe that they can implement simpler solutions using human workers. Additionally, they were concerned about how shoppers might react to seeing robots rolling up and down the aisles. Walmart will still be using robots to perform other jobs. Knowing what is on their shelves continues to be an important task for Walmart.

In the retail industry, Walmart is considered to be a leader and just about everyone is always watching them and trying to follow what they do. For a long time Walmart had been talking about implementing robots in their stores to track shelf inventories. However, for simplicity and customer relations issue Walmart has changed their minds for now. Walmart runs big stores and one would think that eventually it may make sense to add robots to the store to help with tasks. Right now it looks like that is going to take a little bit longer to happen.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Walmart should move ahead with its plan to use robots to track shelf contents?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the person with the CIO job, you understand that having a diverse workforce is key to having an IT department that can solve today’s complex problems. Diversity is something that we’ve always worked at and in the past few years it has only increased in importance. The importance of information technology requires that we have a diverse workforce. However, with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and the upheaval that has swept through every company, CIOs have a new problem that they have to deal with: they are losing their female employees.