Maxwell Stephens

Are the Robots Coming?

The past few years have seen renewed public interest and debate on how technology will shape the future; not only in relation to our personal lives, but also our careers. Just this week, as the Olympic Games in Rio came to a close, a spokesperson for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has sparked conversation by saying that they hope to make use of robots as ushers at the next Games.

However, this blog is not about the Olympics; it is about how robots will affect the future of careers within facilities management. There is often a pervasive fear of technological advances within the workplace as indeed there have been many examples of technology making human roles redundant. Although it has primarily affected the manufacturing industry, and specifically what one might refer to as primary sector roles. This has in turn pushed human labour into more service related roles; facilities management being one of those career choices.


Example of this Natural Transition


Let us take an example of this natural transition. An individual works in a mailroom in charge of sorting post and then delivering the mail to employees’ desks. The firm then decides to outsource the service to a company who implement technology such as post scanning and delivery of post by machine to dedicated boxes; which removes the requirement for the employee doing this job in the mailroom. The labour intensive job becomes redundant but there is a new role created to manage the vendor providing the service, and another to oversee the equipment day to day. Therefore technology does not necessarily reduce the size of the human workforce, but it does cause a shift in the roles that people are undertaking.


An Interesting Case Study


One interesting case study is that of the contract Serco won a few years ago at Forth Valley Royal Hospital where they implemented a robotic delivery system. When we think of robots we often think of an impersonation of a human as we have seen in so many Hollywood movies. The reality is somewhat different, with the robots in this case being automated guided vehicles which are never seen by the public, or the medical staff. They work for 18 hours per day and the other 6 hours are spent charging. Their role in the hospital is to collect and deliver linens, waste, meals, and other supplies. This is all conducted in dedicated segregated tunnels and FM hubs. The robots are also used to dispense medicine and to clean large areas. Use of robots for these tasks has reportedly had a positive impact by reducing cross infection and giving porters more time to spend with patients.


The Reality


Whilst there is a lot of press about robots and fear of their implementation taking peoples jobs, the reality is that at least for the foreseeable future it will only transform the mundane and labour intensive tasks. Therefore the most likely impact for facilities managers will be the way in which services they are responsible for are delivered, and ensuring they adapt to manage these effectively.

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