People smiling as they leave a warehouse to head home
By Drew Ehlers | September 20, 2023

A Look at Labor: Are You Giving Too Much Credit to Technology?

Remember, people are still the ones responsible for your success (and developing the technology that allows you to work in new, better ways so that success becomes possible).

With the abundance of technology available today, especially artificial intelligence (AI), it might seem odd that business leaders are so worried about tight labor markets. Can’t they just use more robots, industrial automation systems or AI software to close the gap?

Well, let me put it this way: if technology could do what people do, labor shortages would be a non-issue.

Technology can be used to augment workers in many different ways, but there’s a reason why you never hear technology described as “talent.” A person’s talents – and the outcomes derived as a result of those talents “at work” – are exclusively human. Technology may give those talents an opportunity to shine. But those talents aren’t the result of technology. They’re an exclusive product of human thought, emotion, experience, focus, and commitment.

That is why the value of human workers rises in proportion to the digitalization of workflows and automation of inspections, decision-making and other critical actions. It is also why partnerships with other people who know what they’re talking about – people who can help you make progress – have become priceless.

People are still the ones who must decide how to approach problems, what AI recommendations to follow, and what decisions (and people) to trust. People are the ones who will be making exceptions to rules, finding workarounds to “strict” policies, and going above and beyond to act in the best interests of other people, even in the most technologically powered operations.

Plus, people will never deem “success” synonymous with “completion.” They know a successful initiative is just a stepping stone...a milestone...a means to further growth. They embrace success as something that unlocks new capabilities for humanity; it enables us to be better, think differently and make a difference in someone else’s life. When you really think about it, even technological advancement (a human-driven “success”), is simply a catalyst for more positive human impact. It’s an empowerment tool – something that helps people see the world (or other people) in a different light. It compensates for our visual or computing limitations.

That said, I believe the more technology we have at our disposal, the more we see people’s immense capabilities. I know I have.

Even the smartest AI can’t understand the full context behind someone’s words or behaviors or comprehend why something is the way it is in this moment. That requires human experience and human connection...heart and soul. It also demands common sense, curiosity, compassion and creativity, all uniquely human traits.

So, I challenge you to pause right now and really consider where the success of your operation stems from. Is it all the technology investments you’ve been making? Probably least not exclusively. 

I suspect you’re only digitalizing your workflows and automating certain aspects of your business for the sake of people. Likewise, if you’re a technology provider – a partner to front-line business leaders – then you’re probably only crafting new technology “solutions” because someone has approached you with a “people” problem. It may be that there aren’t enough people to get the (huge, and growing) job done, or that the job that people are technically capable of doing is immensely painful (when it doesn’t have to be). Whether you’re the one making, selling, or buying technology, the fact is that technology is the way in which you can effectively fulfill expectations and meet the many different demands being placed on you. It’s the “assist” you need to keep people happy, whether those people are your customers, partners, shareholders, employees, community members or all the above. You want to make sure you’re doing right by the people who you rely on and who rely on you because it’s in your nature to prioritize other people’s needs.

I encourage you to follow my lead in celebrating your people every day. This includes your employees as well as your partners, advisors, suppliers and other stakeholders. The people who challenge you to do things differently – to find a better way of working. Let them know how grateful you are for them and how proud you are of them. Give them credit for your organization’s success and applaud them for their positive impact on others, especially as you introduce more technology tools into the mix. Let them know you recognize that it’s their talent, not just technology, that has made a positive difference.

Because the truth is that every single success story reported is the result of teamwork, not just technology. These successes are only possible because people put their heads together to figure out how to make life easier for someone else, and they did it with heart:

  • Zebra and its partners ValuTrack and HAL Systems worked together to jointly develop an RFID system for Hunt Country Components that ultimately received a 2023 Top Supply Chain Projects Award from Supply & Demand Chain Executive. (You can hear CEO Howard Hellwinkel talk about how the ValuTrack and HAL Systems teams made his RFID dream come true in this exclusive interview.)
  • The Qore team wanted compact printers that could be built into self-service card vending machines (CVMs). These printers needed to be reliable, secure and easy for bank employees to change print consumables, such as cartridges. So, we helped them come up with an automated solution for issuing the bank cards.
  • Alpro Pharmacy needed to digitalize its inventory tracking and fulfillment processes due to substantial growth and changing customer demands. So, Zebra partner Inchz IoT helped them build a mobile computer and RFID-based solution that led to an 80% improvement in order fulfillment efficiency, more capacity for e-commerce order fulfillment, and greater visibility and accuracy of inventory movements.
  • Foodstuffs South Island wanted to upgrade its mobile technology to a system that would improve staff productivity and efficiency, while reducing lost sales from out-of-stock items. The company also needed a way to seamlessly connect staff and streamline workflows. So, it called upon the Zebra team in APAC to help build and implement a single mobile computing solution with all these capabilities.
  • Zebra partner Datatech worked with the Cyprus Deputy Ministry of Research Innovation & Digital Policy to rollout a fast, accurate and secure tool that could be used to validate passes at transit hubs and busy public places.
  • Cargus leaders called on Zebra partner Smart ID to help it equip couriers with an advanced mobile solution that could easily capture more data, keep customers informed on delivery progress and take card payments while in the field.

In Other Words

Be sure everything you’re doing as a business leader, and every decision you’re making, is keeping humans’ best interests at heart, because all the technology in the world can’t replace the value your people – employees, partners, consultants, and vendors – bring to your organization. Nor can it deliver what your customers truly want, which is understanding and support from other people.


You May Also Want to Read These Insights:

Best Practices, Healthcare, Warehouse and Distribution, Leadership, Retail, Hospitality, Energy and Utilities, Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics, Inside Zebra Nation, Success Story, Field Operations, Public Sector, Banking,
Drew Ehlers
Drew Ehlers

Drew Ehlers currently serves as the Global Futurist and the Head of Global Partners. 

He previously served on the Zebra Ventures team and in several product management roles for Zebra's Chief Technology Office where he was responsible for producing advanced machine-learning models and algorithms for predictive analytics to solve critical business problems for Zebra and its partners and customers. This included emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision and blockchain. 

He currently holds contributing board positions on the Global AIM Blockchain Council and the Retail Advisory Council for Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence at Northwestern University.

Mr. Ehlers has more than 19 years of experience within the B2B technology industry and has held numerous leadership roles. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President at Gallagher Bassett and Vice President of Channel for the North America region at Zebra.

He holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland College and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

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