Products replacing humans do not always need to be faster than the humans replaced

September 7, 2014 by
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ROI 

If your product is going to replace a human in a work role, it does not need to do the work faster than the human it replaces if there is currently a wait time or reliability issue involved with the human role it replaces.

Examples of where you can see this today in current society:

1 – Elevators – most standard tall buildings have somewhat dumb elevator control systems that take no account of the number of people in the elevator or where they are going. Contrast this with the days of when elevators were controlled by humans and they were much more efficient in getting to their destination.

  • Elevator was full, the operator did not stop at floors to pick up new people but instead emptied the elevator out first.
  • When letting people off on a floor, they would ask anyone waiting for an elevator where they were going to see if it made sense to jump on their elevator or wait for the next one.

However, if for any reason there was a shortage of human elevator operators, then effectively the elevator had to be taken out of service. By removing the human element, there is now less of a chance of the elevator being taken out of service thus reducing the potential wait.

2 – Self check out – have been springing up in stores all over the place. One employee can now monitor dozens of check outs that the customer uses. There is no way I can check out as fast as a seasoned cashier but I am now less likely to have to wait for a cashier and this reduction in wait is the benefit.

There is one caution to this story however. As time passes, people are going to remember less the benefit of the slower solution which leaves the market open for a company to invent a new product that works faster than your product. Bit by bit, elevator systems are becoming more sophisticated which means as companies look to replace their aging systems, the old benchmark of performance may no longer be good enough. I can see in a few years where the mere fact of me scanning a product at a self checkout will be replaced by RFID tags inside my cart that automatically scan. Eventually it may even get to the point that I do not even go in a store but instead pick my items up at a terminal outside.

Looking at the grocery store today, I can see in the near future where the human shelf stackers could easily be replaced by a warehouse robot that did the job. That way the company would no longer be dependent on humans to do the work.


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