Article | September 24, 2023

A Smarter Strategy for Using Robots

Despite advances in automation technology, the promise of productive and flexible automation, with minimal involvement of human workers, is far from reality, for two main reasons.

First, adoption of automation technology has been limited. Second, when firms do automate, what they gain in productivity they tend to lose in process flexibility, resulting in what the authors call zero-sum automation.

This article introduces positive-­sum automation, which enables productivity and flexibility. To achieve it, companies must design technology that makes it easier for line employees to train and debug robots; use a bottom-up approach to identifying what tasks should be automated; and choose the right metrics for measuring success.