Robots are moving from controlled environments to uncontrolled environments and from select industries to every industry faster than we could have expected. Thanks to the ‘new normals’ caused by the covid-19 pandemic, robots are now more critical in business and society than ever, as businesses and governments search for new, “contact-less” solutions. The pandemic is strengthening the case for robotics and automation as robots are already being used by companies to engage and delight customers, solve logistics difficulties or take on difficult and dangerous tasks. In a recent conversation with CXOToday, P. N. Sudarshan, Partner, Deloitte India, explains the current opportunities and challenges in the robotics space and how robotics can be a game changer for businesses in the post-Covid era.
CXOToday: According to you, how can robotics create a better automated future?
Sudarshan: In the robotics market, there are three primary classifications – industrial robots, professional services robots and software robots. While industrial robots have been in existence for the last few decades, professional service and software robots are more recent, with the market coming to maturity only in the last decade or so. Professional service robots are used outside of manufacturing, in domains such as retail, hospitality, health care, logistics (warehouse automation), construction, agriculture, etc. They are typically used to supplement human activity than replacing them, and most are mobile or semi mobile.
Software robots on the other hand are used to automate some of the process oriented work streams in enterprise functions such as finance, HR, procurement etc. and include technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). India is one of the fast growing markets for software robots, driven by the presence of a large offshore shared services market and global in-house centers.
Technologies like Robotics have the potential to automate repetitive tasks, undertake dangerous / hazardous tasks, and thereby helping enterprises increase productivity and efficiencies, and utilize their human resources for higher value services.
CXOToday: Are businesses in India ready to engage a wide range of robotics in their day to day operations?
Sudarshan: Robotics is not entirely new to India. As per various estimates, Industrial robotics market in India was estimated to be more than 4500 units in 2018, and estimated to grow more than 13% CAGR between 2019 and 2024. The demand for industrial robots is driven by the automotive and general industry (including rubber, plastics, metals, and electrical & electronics segments). The low levels of automation in the manufacturing industry is the key driver for growth in the industrial robot space in India, and we can expect this growth trajectory to continue in the coming years as well, barring the short term disruptions due to Covid-19 pandemics.
The market for professional services and software robots is generally expected to grow at a faster rate than that for industrial robots. As per various estimates, RPA market is expected to grow more than 20% CAGR between 2019 and 2025 and surpass $100mn by 2025.
Therefore, I believe, businesses are utilizing emerging technologies such as robotics and automation in improving process efficiencies and transforming their business operations.
CXOToday: What are the current challenges in the robotics space in India?
Sudarshan: In India, SMEs contribute a significant share of the manufacturing GDP, and for India to take full advantage of technologies like robotics in the manufacturing sector, it would require right pricing models as well as support infrastructure to catalyse large scale adoption among the SME ecosystem
Professional Services robots on the other hand caters to the services industry and have the potential to transform operational processes, optimize resource usage, and augment capabilities of human resources in service delivery, improving overall customer experience. An integrated and holistic approach to service operations management would be required to maximize such benefits, in designing appropriate processes and utilizing digital technologies including robotics to improve process efficiencies and customer experience.
CXOToday: So, what according to you is the future of robotics market in India, and in what areas do you see maximum traction?
Sudarshan: The market for industrial robots is likely to be stable in the short term, and is expected to track the broader economic recovery and the growth in manufacturing activity. Professional services robots on the other hand could witness a relatively higher growth rate, driven by industries such as logistics, warehousing, healthcare, agriculture, etc. where there are well defined use cases and a near term demand for ensuring safety protocols in workplace.
Professional services robots that augment and supplements human activity in the above industries are likely to witness increased adoption as enterprises are looking to ensure process safety and effective service delivery, to cater to the evolving consumer demand in the new normal. Retail, hospitality, and healthcare industries, which are affected the most by the Covid-19 pandemic, could also witness an increased adoption of professional services robots, as companies adapt to new normal in these changing times
CXOToday: How will robotics affect the future of work, especially in the post-Covid era?
Sudarshan: Covid-19 situation is likely to increase the demand for professional services robots. Majority of the professional services robots are used in domains such as warehouse, logistics, and medical / healthcare verticals and in the current market context where worker safety and social distancing in work place is of paramount importance, professional services robots can effectively augment human activity, and could be increasingly used by enterprises for safe and efficient service delivery.
Medical industry specifically is embracing the concepts of ‘co-bots’ where humans and professional services robots are working together. Hospitals are increasingly deploying professional services robots for purposes such as outpatient screening, cleaning and disinfecting and delivery of food/medicines to isolation wards, etc. while ensuring safety in operations.
CXOToday: Now that people are losing jobs in the corona time, do you see machines/AI replacing those readily?
Sudarshan: Technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be effective to augment human intelligence and address the challenges of today’s digital world. For most organizations and most applications, AI is likely to restructure work and make it more efficient perhaps restraining the growth of jobs in certain areas, but creating jobs in newer areas. In domains such as public administration, public health and safety, education, agriculture, environment protection, etc., technologies like AI could augment human intelligence and administrative capacity to achieve desired outcomes. For an emerging economy like India with billion plus population and a thriving market for goods and services, there are unique challenges in managing the growth in a sustainable manner with efficient use of resources, and these are areas where mass digitization and AI could have maximum impact
CXOToday: Do you think the launch of 5G will create greater opportunities in this market?
Sudarshan: 5G is expected to enable faster networks with low latency. To put it simply, 5G enables huge volumes of data to be transmitted and processed in real time. In the context of Robotics, faster and low latency networks can enable edge computing architectures, in which some of the processing / computing requirements of robots can be offloaded to edge servers that have greater capacity. With this the overall intelligence and capabilities of robots on the field can be enhanced thereby improving the usage and applications.