Potential use cases and opportunities may be evident, but there can be little progress without a receptive organization. Are agencies’ cultures and leadership ready for robots? How about their stakeholders? And do they possess the skill sets needed?
Our research suggests there will likely be sizeable hurdles for some agencies considering forays into robotics. Three-quarters of federal executives surveyed said they expect their employees would resist any near-term moves to adopt robots; 73 percent said they expect their customers would resist; and 71 percent said they expect society would resist it.
Moreover, 57 percent of federal executives say their employees will be challenged to figure out how to work with robots, while 43 percent believe their employees will easily figure out how to work with robots. Getting the right skills in place to execute and sustain robotic endeavors can also present challenges. There have been large increases in demand for robotics technicians (a 121 percent increase since 2017) and for data scientists (an 88 percent increase between 2018 and 2019).
A good way to start is by launching discovery initiatives to understand the state of robotics capability—and limitations—as it relates to an agency’s missions and operations. Although autonomous capabilities offer many exciting possibilities, they cannot match the human brain’s breadth of intelligence and dynamic, general-purpose learning. Instead, focus robots on well-scoped purposes, particularly for automating routine or 3D human tasks.
Agencies can bring needed focus by assembling a cross-functional working group, led by a senior departmental executive, to identify, explore and pilot opportunities that will deliver compelling business outcomes. They should craft strategies for building, buying, or partnering with the right organizations to develop needed skills, expertise, and capabilities. Along the way, it will be critical to proactively solicit and address the concerns of affected stakeholders, including employees, through robust interactions and communications. To more easily scale these efforts, agencies should consider establishing centers of excellence to concentrate capabilities, maximize visibility, and address regulations and standards that can ease wider adoption and applicability.