by Mike Kimel
Many types of tech – not just robots – have been affecting and are going to affect the service sector. When someone develops an inexpensive sign you can stick on top of television sets, racks of clothes, or appliances that will change itself whenever someone in the headquarters decides to change the price of the product, its going to eliminate entire departments of people (or move them to doing something else), plus reduce the workload at every retail store in the system.
(The normal cadence for us is to enter prices more than a week before they take effect. We do have over-rides that allow the process to take place in 24 hours, but the amount of work needed to reduce errors
in that process is mind-boggling, not to mention wasteful given it results in hard printing of the wrong signs as well as the right signs.)
As of yet, I’m not sure automation reduced white collar work. What it has done is created a race to efficiency. Now companies scrape competitor data. They analyze prices to try to determine which generate highest margins. They analyze floor plans for the same purpose. I cannot imagine that being done 10 years ago – both in my previous life as a consultant, and my current life working for a major retailer, we can barely get the data systems to provide the data for those types of analysis properly now. Ten years ago it would have been impossible anywhere outside the military. Ten years from now, data pulls that I need an analyst to spend a week and a half doing, and then another week and a half cleaning, will be spit out in minutes (I hope). That analyst won’t be pulling data and organizing it – I’ll have her doing analysis instead. Margins will be even tighter because all our competitors will be doing the same analysis, without which nobody survives.
Where the job losses will come from is not that my employer or its competitors will have fewer analysts, because, as I noted, more analysis will be needed just to stay competitive. Instead, it will come from shuttering some of the companies in the field. There will be fewer retailers – and they’ll all be bigger.