Saturday 15 December 2018

Why this CEO embraced Pepper the robot as a receptionist - and why she's so good for business

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Smartphones, GPS and contactless payments have become part of most of our daily lives but many industry leaders are still reticent to embrace some advances in technology.

The long-held belief that automation will overwhelm in the various sectors, and bring with it robots that will replace the need for human employees is still prevalent.

But the tide is turning and the way forward is not something that companies and employees - at whatever level - should shy away from.

According to a recent Deloitte study, the 3rd Annual Robotics Survey, the majority of the 400 respondents (53pc) are implementing robotic process automation in their organisations. Some 33pc of Irish respondents said that they were introducing these processes.

CEO of PPC agency, Brainlabs Daniel Gilbert, an advocate for automation and embracing future technology, believes that whatever can be automated, should be.

In just five years, Daniel has grown Brainlabs from 1-170 people, attributing the company's success and client results to the usage of data and automation.

Brainlabs were the first company in the UK to hire a robot receptionist. Daniel told how that concept became a reality.

This has actually been a trend that we've been moving towards in the business for quite a long time, we just do it with machines that aren't so visible. Over the last few years, we've replaced a lot of low level manual labour with computer code. This robot is just more striking because of the visual representation.

From the very beginning of the company, we've worked off the FAST framework; formalise, automate, share and test. That's the framework that we use to essentially build a company that scales.

We looked at the way that our reception worked, in the way that we look at other processes in the business and we saw that our receptionist/bookkeeper at the time was constantly getting distracted by meeting and greeting. So can it be automated? Can it be made more efficient?

So we decided that it could - and we also wanted to have a bit of fun with it because it is important that you have interaction with the company. That's when we started researching robots and that's when we stumbled on Pepper who was the cutest looking robot. When we got the robot we had to build all the software that allowed it to operate.

Clients absolutely loved it; we're not sure it was just because of the novelty factor but it continues to keep generating positive feedback. But more to the point it's efficient, there's no toilet breaks, we have a constant presence and the system works - and we've had zero hiccups.

In what ways do you use automation to add value to the business?

When you have that focus on automating on low level tasks, that frees us up to be far more strategic and focus on those high level strategic cognitive tasks that help us add value to businesses.

For example, take reporting, this is something that can be - and often is - done manually through excel spreadsheets and fiddling around with numbers on a Monday morning to send reports to clients.  We've automated that entire process which doesn't mean we don't have to look at them but when an account manager opens the reports they can add strategic comments on what's actually moving in the markets instead of putting all the data together.

In what other sectors do you see the changing face of technology transforming?

There's not a single sector that is completely impervious to the advent of technology. A better question is what sector is technology not affecting. Even in the highly skilled areas, our industry would have previously been called highly skilled with total cognitive awareness required but we're edging away at the tasks that sit at the bottom of that tree.

What do you say to those who fear what the future of technology brings - including the loss of their jobs?

As the Deloitte report shows, employment numbers aren't actually changing. Employment figures aren't going down off the back of technology. Even the dictionary definition of automation - the decrease in employment relating to automation - it's already built into the narrative already. The reality of the numbers is that, time and time again, automation is not replacing jobs, it's just shifting the job that we're doing.

Instead of being scared, my advice is to embrace it so the type of work that we do will be more challenging. And our former bookkeeper/receptionist is currently doing full-time accounting.

Brainlab's aim is to get to a 1,000 employees in the next four years so we are definitely not replacing people, but aided and supported by processes that scale, which is effectively driven by technology.

Daniel is speaking at DMX Dublin on March 14 at the Aviva Stadium

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