The warehouse is one of the business areas where the adoption of automation and artificial intelligence has progressed faster than in other operations.
Organizations like Amazon offer wonderful examples of what’s possible and what’s already happening in warehouses and distribution centers today. For the overwhelming majority of mid-size manufacturers and retailers, however, predicting a robot-operated warehouse is probably a bit futuristic – not to say expensive – and the ultimate reality will be somewhere in between. Getting to this point will require a new generation of warehouse managers who have the skills and capabilities to analyze data to work alongside artificial intelligence.
According to industry experts, storage and logistics are one of the industries that seek to see higher levels of automation and artificial intelligence over the next decade compared to other industries. Although the use of AI is expected to be at the highest level of the adoption spectrum for the storage industries, it still leaves about 40% of non-automated functions. This means that warehouse managers can expect their current roles to be supported by artificial intelligence and that some of the workforce will be replaced by automated technology. Especially for warehouse managers, this will significantly change the skills they rely on to do their jobs.
Today, much of this role is geared to the management of people, and in the future, work will become much more analytical and focused on the data. Most of the warehouse managers have an extremely strategic role, a factor that helps support a multi-channel business and ensures high levels of customer satisfaction. But the daily reality of their professional life is somewhat different, and many spend much of their day in firefighting or people management rather than focusing on identifying ways to make strategic improvements in the supply chain.
Artificial Intelligence will change all of this because the technical capacity of the machines and the changes that occur in the warehouse will allow warehouse managers to move away from the operational work and concentrate on carrying out what they actually did for the first time. This means that data management and analysis skills will be much more demanding in the future than today, because performance data will be measured more broadly. Daily functions will be analyzed and skills in large data and statistical analysis will be highly sought after. Overall, the role of warehouse manager will evolve much further forward and will focus on risk compliance and mitigation rather than regular work-based monitoring.
The cost of switching to AI and robots is likely to cause polarization in the construction sector, with the first to adopt them to be funded start-ups without infrastructure or bigger companies with strong capital. Medium-sized manufacturers or organizations without the same level of support will find it difficult to make the transition for economic, operational and cultural reasons.
Overall, although artificial intelligence and automation will inevitably replace certain jobs in the warehouse, it will not mean mass unemployment. Storage and logistics professionals, including management, should adapt to an environment where they work with machines. Over the next ten years, we can expect warehouse and logistics operations to be transformed, and instead of removing job opportunities, new jobs requiring new skills will emerge, highly analytical skills, and a unique level of interaction between “man and machine “will begin to emerge.