‘Robots Don’t Disrupt, Humans Do!’ : Building Tomorrow’s Taskforce

Every January senior retail executives and leading technology figures flock to New York City for Retail’s Big Show, organised by the National Retail Federation (NRF), where they seek to find out what sort of technology they should to be investing in for the future.


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This year, however, there was a much greater recognition that it is not just technology but it equally importantly, it’s about the people. The challenge for retailers is recruiting and retaining the relevant employees when their IT and business operations are constantly changing.

This was a topic discussed by some of the biggest players in retail at NRF. Todd Lundgren, CEO of department store Macy’s, reckoned: “Retail fundamentals and great salesmanship will never go away but we need to balance it with technology and distribution (fulfillment) skills. Over the past year we’ve had 600 technologists focusing on everything from web development to deciding when is the right time to use the cloud during peak periods?”

It is a similar challenge faced at the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart. The CEO of its US arm Greg Foran, admitted that the complexity of running an omni-channel business was making it increasingly hard to ensure everybody in the organisation was equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with technology in their everyday working lives.

The reality is that this situation looks set to continue – and constant flux could now be the norm – because there is an array of new technologies coming into play that are disrupting established  working practices. These technologies include robots, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, Chatbots, virtual reality and advanced voice recognition.

“Driving around on a forklift [in the warehouse] is very different to using robotics. What are the skill-sets needed? And what about analytics and machine learning – where will this take us? We need to find people with the right skills and attributes,” suggested Foran.

Never before has there been a time when IT executives have needed to focus as strongly on being leaders of people as they are on identifying and implementing the latest technologies.