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While some white collar workers may be worried, logistics and transport sectors are optimistic on AI

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt Samsara June 27, 2024
Summary:
How do employees in physical operations industries feel about AI as part of their jobs? Depending on the role, it can be polarizing. Philip van der Wilt breaks down the latest research findings from Samsara's State of Connected Operations report.

Transport and logistic concept enhanced with technology © ipopba - Canva.com
(© ipopba - Canva.com)

The people who work in physical operations — those working in transport, logistics, warehousing and construction — are upbeat about a world augmented by artificial intelligence (AI).

Unlike some employees who view AI as a threat to their jobs, the so called ‘blue-collar staff’ can see the benefits AI can bring in terms of automating workflows, eliminating mundane tasks, and making their jobs safer.

That’s just one of the findings from this year’s State of Connected Operations report from Samsara which focuses on the specific impact posed by AI on the world of physical operations. Canvassing the opinions of more than 1,500 business leaders in seven countries, the vast majority (90%) say their employees felt positive about using AI technology.

And it’s easy to see why. According to the report, every single organization using AI reported benefits in terms of improved safety (45%) and employee productivity (42%). Even at this relatively early stage in the life cycle of AI, it’s a pretty impressive thumbs up for the technology.

AI is part of a fleet of new safety-focused technologies

One of the areas where AI has made a real impact concerns AI-augmented vehicle cameras. Easily mounted on dashboards, these dual-facing cameras can spot if a driver is tired or distracted before nudging them to concentrate on the road ahead or even take a break.

The technology can also monitor unsafe driving such as speeding, harsh braking and tailgating. Combined with real-time data telematics, it means drivers have an extra layer of protection when out on the road.

“Driver safety is a key benefit of AI technology,” says Olivia Fagan, Compliance Officer, Fagan & Whalley, a UK-based haulage and logistics company that is no stranger to using technology to improve its business. She adds:

For example, head office can assess how aware a driver is of an obstacle on the road ahead, which lets us delve deeper to tailor our driver training. That’s a big part of our wider commitment to making UK roads safer, and of our mission of continued improvement.

For a sector that is often maligned as being behind the curve in terms of innovation and the adoption of technology, the report found that 93% are already using AI in their day-to-day operations, had plans to implement it, or were open to using it within the next couple of years.

While the use of smart dash cams is becoming increasingly widespread, business leaders are also examining other areas where the technology could be implemented including using AI to analyze vehicle sensor data as part of predictive maintenance scheduling, real-time route planning, and traffic management.

Data quality, security and privacy remain top concerns 

Of course, all of the areas currently being considered by leadership teams require relevant, accurate and timely data, a point not lost on four in ten (41%) of those surveyed who recognized the importance of quality data.

After all, AI needs data to fuel its systems. Old-school telematics solutions — even those that have been upgraded — simply can’t come anywhere near a modern, digitally native platform that generates quality real-time data.

A similar number (40%) also raised security and privacy concerns about implementing AI and the importance of responsible deployment of the technology.

It was an issue discussed at length last year by Lawrence Schoeb, Data Protection Officer and Privacy & Ethics Board Chair at Samsara. Writing for diginomica last year, he spelled out the issues facing business leaders and what measures they should consider in addressing regulatory guidelines while dealing with concerns from staff. 

Writing in this year’s report he says: 

As organizations evaluate AI technology providers, they should prioritize those whose AI development is deeply rooted in responsible innovation. This focus helps ensure the technology itself is trustworthy, and therefore reliable to help business leaders meet their goals and objectives.

Investment in AI is crucial for success

While much of the report provides a snapshot of current thinking, it also provides an indication regarding the direction of travel. And one thing’s for sure — AI is no flash in the pan.

Investment in AI is increasing around the world with 94% of leaders recognizing that their organization needs to invest in AI technology solutions to ensure they are not left behind. What’s more, 87% said they plan to increase investments in AI in the next year with North America leading the way.

And while they have high hopes for the future, it’s also clear that any investment has to be matched with a measurable return on investment (ROI). In particular, the report found that they’re looking for AI-powered insights in areas such as supply chain resource management (41%), driver behavior or safety analytics (40%), and risk mitigation (38%).

All of these aspirations — from the positive outlook displayed by employees to the need for quality data — come at a price. For business leaders in the world of physical operations, that means enlisting the support of the tech industry.

“As we’re preparing to implement more AI, we’re looking to partners in the AI industry to help us understand some of the more advanced use cases,” says Joe Morales, Distribution Systems Manager at Messer Americas, the world's largest privately held industrial gas enterprise. He goes on:

AI partners have more data and specialized engineers. I want to know how the insights from that data can help my business.

Physical operation is now beyond the ‘tipping point’

He has a point. Two years ago, Samsara published its first State of Connected Operations report in which it said that the sector — which accounts for 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP) — was “at a tipping point”.

“The new industrial workforce is demanding easy-to-use tools and systems that are in line with the modern technologies they use every day,” said the 2022 report. The report also said:

And as advances in technology make it possible to capture more data from more assets and connect it to the cloud, we are seeing physical operations digitize and transform into connected operations.

On the basis of this latest report, not only does it appear that this prediction is gaining traction, it seems the world of physical operations is also now beginning to eye the next phase of its digital transformation journey.

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