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The Human Side of the Internet of Things
By Sharon Gietl, VP IT and CIO, The Doe Run Company
McKinsey’s research reports the following about the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation:
• In the past five years, there has been a 300 percent increase in connected machines driving a potential global economic impact of $11.1 trillion by 2025.
• In the next 10 years, 44 percent of activities will be automated, generating a global economic potential of $6.7 trillion by 2025 as a result of automation activities.
The mining and metals industry is no stranger to automation and innovation, and the IoT has helped the industry survive the 2015/2016 downturn in base metal commodity prices. For example, earth moving equipment used underground for ore and waste-rock hauling contains electronic sensors that measure, monitor and report into a computerized monitoring system. This system alerts supervisors at The Doe Run Company (Doe Run) to certain equipment conditions, such as tire pressure, transmission and engine conditions, fluid levels, speed, and payload weight. Doe Run is then able to tie that information to mine production, operator performance, and equipment maintenance or replacement requirements. Equipment, such as smart pumps, variable drive fans, automated control systems and advanced analytics, helps Doe Run manage electrical expense, control potential emissions and ensure the systems that separate valuable metal-bearing ore from waste materials operate at peak performance. Autonomous equipment, such as remote control haul trucks and automated rail/conveyor systems, is being used extensively in above-ground mining. Using these technologies to handle repetitive manual tasks improves production, reduces costs and removes people from potential haul truck driving related health and safety situations. Similar equipment is also being pursued in underground mining as a means to reduce cost and achieve improved production.
Assuming McKinsey’s reports are true, what a tremendous opportunity automation and artificial intelligence can provide through the IoT. Armed with this opportunity, you might expect businesses to be scrambling to be first within their industry to adopt new technologies that provide a competitive advantage. But, with every opportunity there are also challenges to meet and paradigms to shift. The human side of IoT and automation is one aspect that we must focus upon to realize the success McKinsey’s research foresees.
What’s the human side of IoT and automation?
Humans are the messy side of IoT. They may have families that need special care, they get sick, take vacations and come in tired after a night playing ball, going to a concert or taking care of a newborn. They take breaks, check their social media, get distracted and have emotional responses to what happens at work.
The human side of IoT and automation may mean a brave new world for today’s companies
They have ideas: some terrific, most okay and some definitely bad. Humans come with a whole menu of feelings, aspirations and needs. So while some get very excited about the potential of the IoT, others have a very different perspective.
Recognizing the need for behavioral and attitudinal change, introducing automation to the ‘same’ job is an important first step. Using the IoT likely means that, an experienced and long-tenured employee goes from being the expert to becoming the novice. Learning new skills can be daunting to many employees. Knowing that work is being monitored, tracked and compared to others can feel like ‘big brother’ is watching. This increased transparency may feel threatening.
While some employees may embrace new technologies, others may not have the aptitude or desire to move from working with their hands to working with their head. Critical thinking, basic and advanced analytic skills are necessary for employees to know when the machine (‘thing’) is ‘lying’ or when to trust that the data is good and valid.
Leaders need the skills to help their workforce adjust wherever possible and hire employees with new skill sets to supplement the workforce as needed.
What’s holding some companies back?
Companies are like people. They are made up of boards, executives, managers and employees, each with unique attributes. The human side can prevent some companies from being leaders in IoT and automation.
Disruptive technologies, such as IoT and automation, turn normalcy upside-down with the creation of a new normal. Boards, executives and stockholders do not want disruption that has potential to affect the stock price or business in a negative way. They may prefer to follow only after all the mistakes of innovation have been made by others.
For some companies, there may be a lack of vision. They don’t have the foresight to see how IoT and automation can revolutionize their businesses and industry for the better. The cost to automate when times are tough can also hinder adoption of new technologies as some leaders may choose to defer spending until ‘things are better.’ But ‘better’ may never happen because visionary competitors are apt to find ways to implement technologies that reduce costs and force those that lag behind out of business.
Finally, other businesses may lack personnel with the right skills to help lead the change. It takes great leaders to attract talent, implement new technologies and change business processes. Data analytics, IoT and automation skills are in high demand, so people with these skills will gravitate to companies that place high value on these skills, and make the IoT and automation high priorities. Organizational change is difficult. It requires skilled leaders to describe the vision and rationale, set goals, develop and implement new processes, and hold the company accountable toward that vision.
What does this mean for all of us?
McKinsey reports 8-12 million middle-skilled jobs will be displaced within the next 10 years.This prediction brings with it a lot of questions regarding life in the future.
• What’s work going to look like in 2026?
• What new competencies and skill sets will be needed?
• Do we even know the skills of the future?
• What will our children and their children do?
• Will a computer similar to IBM’s Watson or Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey run the country; the world?
• Will we have a world of automation with humans doing creative work?
• Will we achieve world peace or will the “haves” and “have-nots” be further divided?
The human side of IoT and automation may mean a brave new world for today’s companies in the near term and for humanity 100 years from now. As Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”My crystal ball says we humans will struggle to resolve the situations described above and answer the questions with concepts not yet invented.