As the rise of machines continues the key is balance

As the line between digital and human continues to blur, how can organisations balance productivity, efficiency and personalisation with the desires and expectations of both employees and consumers? Is it possible to harness modern technology without stepping into big brother territory?

When one of the most significant thinkers of recent times – Stephen Hawking – urges caution regarding artificial intelligence and the rise of the robot economy, should organisations not take note? Yet in a challenging economy underpinned by ever rising customer expectations the combination of unprecedented efficiency with unparalleled personalisation is simply too compelling for the vast majority of organisations to ignore.

As a result, new technologies are set to dominate customer service; ‘intelligent’ devices such as Alexa, Siri and Cortana are now standard household items and virtual reality is an expected component of the retail experience dynamic – how can an individual buy a new sofa without picturing how it would look in her sitting room? The way in which humans and machines interact is changing fast.

>See also: The rise and rise of intelligent machines

Just because it can be done, however, does not mean it should be. Do consumers really want to be tracked around a shop or shopping mall via beacon technology? Will they really react well to receiving an SMS offer seconds after entering a store? Or being greeted by a video screen showing them wearing the dress they just picked up?

The issue is just as relevant within the workplace: how will employees react to a machine dominated warehouse environment, for example? Automated picking and intelligent scheduling can improve efficiency, but can machines deliver employee motivation?

While some consumers may well embrace the new technology-driven reality, a large number will not. And some retailers may not be able to implement the technology at all due to size, resource, budget, or lack of understanding.

But widely, the issue is that right now, machines are not yet human enough and they cannot yet use body language or eye contact to truly determine an individual’s response. So in this instance, a human enabled with the right technology can be far more useful. It is also important to remember that over- or mis-use of digital technology and the implications for customer perception and employee morale could be devastating.

Getting the right balance

There is, as yet, no clear prescription for successfully exploiting machine driven technology while retaining the human element. And, to be fair, strategies will vary between environments.

Within a retail store, for example, organisations would do well to err on the side of people as opposed to machine, but to do so whilst ensuring the human touch is empowered to deliver the very best experience.

>See also: The rise of the machine: AI, the future of security

Rather than big brother style tracking, impertinent images or offers, even ‘meet and greet’ holograms, a store associate armed with accurate, real time information about inventory and the customer can deliver an excellent customer experience – and, critically, one that uses human knowledge and experience to reflect the desires and responses of each individual.

Of course, in the warehouse environment, organisations may look to leverage intelligent technology as far as possible – efficiency gains are essential to meet the evolving volume and capacity requirements.

But it is also essential to track and monitor the environment; to understand the way human/machine interaction is working and flag any points of friction. For example, a machine driven piece of equipment cannot provide the same flexibility as a human and cannot be re-programmed to change task as quickly as a human can be re-instructed or trained.

>See also: The rise of the machines: not so doom and gloom

Productivity improvements will also be short lived if the working environment prompts frustration from employees, leading to high levels of staff churn. Failure to recognise the need for balance in the human/machine interaction could be costly.


Today, the ability of machines has its place with a pace of change that is extraordinary and holds limitless potential. Organisations clearly need to embrace the concept of new technologies available today; but with caution. Taking small steps, whilst recognising the limitations and the importance of human interaction will be essential.


Sourced by Georgia Leybourne, international marketing director, Manhattan Associates 


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...