To further discuss how Sodexo is dealing with the challenges and opportunities, we invite Laurent Cousin, Group Senior Vice President Research & Development at Sodexo, to talk about how robotics is changing the way Sodexo does business.
Can you tell us about Sodexo’s perspective on robotics, and what the Group is doing in this area?
Laurent: There are several key reasons why the use of robotics makes sense for us. Robots can help to improve productivity, quality and the regularity of the service, along with the delivery. They also ensure safety by helping us conduct some dangerous tasks without risk to human lives. And lastly, robots allow us to increase our sales offer—whether that means selling more in volume or value terms; developing our existing business, products and services; or developing something completely new—designing and offering a new service that was just impossible to deliver otherwise.
What aspects of robotics in the workplace are a cause for concern?
Laurent: If you think about robots, especially first or second generation robots that perform repetitive or reactive tasks, I clearly see there might be a risk of dehumanization. For example, if a human being provides a service, they are capable of noticing if a consumer is happier or sadder than usual and can adjust their behavior accordingly. At present, not many robots can do the same, even if face recognition is already improving... This is where we risk losing a big dimension of humanity—attention to human beings, capacity to customize, to specialize the service and enrich the services we perform.
That said, if we talk about the third generation of robots, those that are adaptive, those that have a so-called “intelligence”, then we can start to imagine situations where we won’t lose sight of this “human” factor. The human factor is at the heart of what ultimately improves quality of life—which is not so much driven by just excellence in service delivery. This is where we want to remain very attentive. If the price to pay for robotization is to lose this human factor and attention to human beings, then I believe we should consider that price too high.
What kinds of services Sodexo provides are being robotized? How is Sodexo piloting programs using robots?
Laurent: There are already such examples as drones in Poland or in Brazil being leveraged to undertake building inspections that might involve unsafe environments. Other applications could include removing snow from roofs. Sodexo is piloting programs using robots to perform parts of the service it provides to customers or clients—initiated both by client request and by internal activation.
Now we have concrete robotization of tasks, with a focus on cleaning, security, some parts of food processing. Also we are trying to provide possible innovative interactive service. For example, our leadership team for the segment Seniors organized a “learning expedition” in Japan a couple of weeks ago, to discover pilots and tested solutions.