Tracy Dixon sits down with CMO of Cybellum David Leichner to talk about the future of robotics and automation.
With the shortage of labor, companies are now looking at how robots can replace some of the lost labor force. See here for example. The truth is that this is not really a novel idea, as companies like Amazon have been using robots for a while now.
What can we expect to see in the robotics industry over the next few years? How will robots be used? What kinds of robots are being produced? To what extent can robots help address the shortage of labor? Which jobs can robots replace, and which jobs need humans? In our series called “The Future Of Robotics Over The Next Few Years” we are talking to leaders of robotics companies, AI companies, and hi-tech manufacturing companies who can address these questions and share insights from their experience. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Dixon.
Tracy is an Operational Excellence and UiPath Partnership Lead for Centric Consulting, where she is an automation and agile strategist. She’s passionate about building solutions that enable others to spend time on what matters most. Tracy has been named a UiPath MVP for three years running and holds the UiPath Advanced RPA Developer Certification.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The first and most impactful robotic process automation (RPA) project I worked on led to hospice patients getting the fastest bedside care possible. In hospice care, every second counts. When a hospital determines a patient needs hospice care, they often have to manually enter information into a computer database to request access to hospice providers for that patient.
Our client, a large hospice care provider, had a very diligent team of employees spending all day long refreshing that database to monitor hospital referrals and respond to them quickly. The automation I implemented reduced the 8- to 10-minute average response time to three to five seconds. The hospice employees didn’t have to spend all day monitoring a computer and could immediately provide services and spend more time counseling patients’ families.
It made for a phenomenally better experience for both patients and families, especially during difficult times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can’t ask for help without self-judgment, you cannot offer help without judging others.” — Brené Brown.
This quote resonates with me every day. I used to approach working on things alone, not thinking I needed help or feeling too busy to reach out. I learned my lesson the hard way. I now involve others in nearly everything I do. If I don’t ask for help, I cannot truly be passionate about helping others.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working for a large financial services company to streamline the way merchants and banks add products to their plans. The process is very manual. It requires phone calls and other forms of communication. This process would take weeks at a time. We are looking at the entire process and all the various technical tools in play behind the scenes for opportunities to automate parts of the process and ultimately make it more efficient.
How do you think this might change the world?
RPA will ultimately change the face of our workforce. In the next 10 to 15 years, most job roles will shift to be more technical or emotionally intelligent, where employees will need to have people skills. Many of the manual tasks we see today will be obsolete. Workers will be able to focus more on talking to customers, making decisions and doing things that require the human brain — something robots can never replace.
The day-to-day workload will be different for the next generation. Imagine not having to complete expense reports and timesheets or manually sort junk email. We’ll automate those types of daily business activities to free up time to do more important tasks. Automation is all about making room to do more meaningful things in our day.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
The natural tendency is for people to fear technology. But RPA will not transform into a terminator and go rogue. Even if we exposed RPA to the most sinister of Netflix characters, it would not be able to inflict the damage fictionalized on TV. We build bots within secure confines as it “learns” by rules we determine, adapting and course-correcting along the way. We give it a specific set of instructions containing certain permissions and security measures that close off everything except the one job it needs to do. The robot is also constantly machine-learning from additional information and data you give it.
For example, a robot takes in massive amounts of email data every day, and when it can’t sort something, it identifies it. Then we flag it, and the robot continues to learn from it, getting better and more efficient as it goes. RPA won’t provide made-for-TV drama, but it will undoubtedly give us back a lot of time.
What are the three things that most excite you about the robotics industry? Why?
- It is changing the employee experience. Automation enables employees to have more time to do the work they enjoy. It reduces attrition rates and improves the work experience. When people realize what automation can do, it changes the way they look at work and adds more purpose to what they do.
- It’s growing, it’s evolving, and it’s accessible. RPA is the number one growth area in the world for enterprise technology. The sector is young, so there is so much opportunity and free training in this sector for people — it’s a magical combination.
- It’s not all monetary. It can literally save lives. I have many examples of how we’ve integrated RPA into process improvements that bring life-altering changes. From connecting kids with parents through RPA in the adoption process to an automated system for volunteers on helplines, ensuring no call goes answered — RPA expedites essential work.
What are the three things that concern you about the robotics industry? Why?
- Lack of knowledge and misconceptions. Often people initially misunderstand how automation integrates with other technologies and the benefits automation brings. It is hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea of computer-based robots.
- Worker hesitation to “reskill.” The workforce will need to embrace technology, even at a medium level, and migrate to more emotionally intelligent work. Despite free training tools available, people are generally intimidated, thinking it will be too difficult. It’s not.
- Poor implementation practices. Even though the tooling is compliant, the people or team implementing the technology may not follow or have established policies and procedures around security, data privacy and compliance procedures. RPA is incredibly secure when integrated with governance tools.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the potential to pose a danger to humanity in the future. What is your position about this?
I have to side with Mark Zuckerberg on this debate. Indeed, there is always the potential for people to intentionally misuse technology, and we always work with that in mind. However, there are far more beneficial and reasonable uses for AI in our future, especially when combined with process automation.
For example, until recently, documents had to be in a specific format for a robot to read and process information. Now, with AI advancements and machine learning, robots can read documents without precise placement of information, even handwritten. The robot can also correct any scanning inaccuracies by looking for accurate grammar, spelling, and word combinations through natural language processing. We can achieve so much more when smart technology can learn and get even smarter.
My expertise is in product security, so I’m particularly interested in this question. In today’s environment, hackers break into the software running the robotics, for ransomware, to damage brands, or for other malicious purposes. Based on your experience, what should manufacturing companies do to uncover vulnerabilities in the development process to safeguard their robotics?
Process improvement and security apply to every company, not just manufacturing. Companies are more compliant when they have robots, instead of humans, monitoring and performing mundane processes. And it’s not just about monitoring — it’s about having a robust process in place to respond to security issues as they occur.
There are often hints of a breach if intruders attempt to enter a system. A robot can detect a number of areas and begin a response, which would not be feasible with a human-based approach. Plus, robots don’t take breaks. They don’t eat lunch. They have a 168-hour workweek, and they’re a lot faster than humans. They can very quickly notify a human before a potential attack, both faster and with a rapid response.
Monitoring all day for intruders and security breaches sounds like a snooze fest for humans, but the robot doesn’t mind. Not only can it respond at an appropriate level but can also keep everybody informed at the same time.
Given the cost and resources that it takes to develop robotics, how do you safeguard your intellectual property during development and also once the robot is deployed in the industry?
Whenever you develop automation, there are private source files involved. However, a human publishes these source files together for RPA deployment. Once published, the inner contents of those files are secured, and only those with proper security can publish the automation in the final environment in which it would run. The orchestrator is there to govern access and provide the ability to deploy automation to a central location.
However, anyone can be non-compliant if they don’t follow implementation practices, which is why it’s helpful to have a partner like us who is diligent and knows best practices and security protocols. We teach clients how to monitor and what standards they should implement.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Robotics Industry?”
- Take advantage of automation training and courses available. Be a citizen developer. There are so many free courses available that require no previous experience. Take the time to thoroughly learn the tools and get certified to validate your knowledge.
- Apply automation to something important to you. Maybe it’s managing your kid’s school communications, streamlining your finances, or setting up automation for tedious tasks at your job — apply your automation skills to something that makes your life easier and earn back precious time to focus on your passions.
- Have confidence and perseverance. Technology is not about who’s the smartest in the room. It’s about perseverance. You don’t have to know everything, and no one will ever expect you to. You simply have to be willing to come back to it tomorrow, knowing there isn’t an issue you can’t solve, especially with the support of a sizeable community.
- Be willing to reach out for help and mentor. It’s okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. If you have a problem, somebody else has likely solved it before. I give back the same way people helped me when I needed it, and it puts meaning into my day. Share your knowledge! Join a collaborative community or be a mentor to others.
- Give back to the community. Use your automation skills in a tangible way, such as giving back to a charity. You’ll give them the gift of time so that they can help more people. Every charity could use a lot more time back and spend less time on administration.
As you know, there are not that many women in this industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women in the robotics industry?
It starts with me. It begins with putting myself out there and showing others that this is normal. I think it is important for us to represent the industry and talk about the technology to make sure women know there are no barriers to entry. We need to surround women in a community that normalizes them in technology. The industry is big, growing, and young, and there is so much opportunity. I hope to inspire people to be confident enough to start because the sky’s the limit once they do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would inspire a movement of new technologists who choose a passion and amplify it with automation. People limit themselves when it comes to any concept involving a robot, thinking that it’s overly complicated. However, it’s far easier to use RPA than many other technologies. Take the first step and try it out because there is no reason not to. Whether you are a kid looking for an afterschool hobby, a person looking to change careers, or you want to give resources to your favorite charity — anyone can build automation. The only limits in what you can automate are those that you place on yourself.