My glasses told the boss I’m slacking

Sound the lovely graphics Klaxon.

The world of work is being transformed by the Internet of Things. The old chain of innovation has flipped. Tech used to travel from military -> business -> consumer and now its the other direction. The world of work, then, should look to consumer tech and not to the military for insight into our future workspace.



managerialism + consumer IoT tech = danger


Traversing this territory is going to be tricky. The DHL report below is especially interesting — since Amazon don’t have to sketch visions like this out for customers it is helpful that DHL do.


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Working into the Future

The DHL Annual Report for 2016 didn’t jump into my head as a place to go to find insight on the corporate application of the IoT. Their 2016 report does a nice piece at the front highlighting the innovation and technology DHL is trying to integrate into business practices.

While Amazon are comfortably able to conduct their work in secret except for a few nuggets on their patent filings at CB Insights, DHL don’t enjoy that luxury. Despite the corporate brand polishing, tech co valuations > logistic company valuations, what we learn is the way large corporates are going to use connected devices to get more from workers. Not too long after small ones are too.

From DHL Annual Report 2016 (PP. 14)

Proving the idea that the direction of innovation now starts with consumers, the glasses for tracking and picking are pure consumer tech.

The glasses are positively old-school now that Google’s clip is on the market. The glasses are an advance on the old Amazon handheld. The machine that dictates the direction to traverse with trolleys in order to maximise picking and minimise time.

Since they are camera enabled, they see what you see, including any diversions or distractions like a sneaky cup of tea. I have always like Aral’s idea that we are already cyborgs. Elevating smart, connected, devices to management level tools puts the cyborg and the employer in conflict. A whole new era of workplace industrial relations lies ahead of us as worker representatives try to figure out how to carve out human space and free time in a cyborg workplace.

From DHL Annual Report 2016 (pp.8–9)

The only thing I find unbelievable about the second illustration is the human:robot ratio in this picture.

It makes compelling business sense to automate vast swathes of the logistics process, it would be great if that lowered the carbon footprint of logistics at the same time.

The applications draw into focus the issue the glasses alluded to, who (what?) is in charge. In scene one the glasses are clearly intended to be the boss. Each picker has their own individual manager tracking progress, breaking their day into micro-tasks which are managed by the smart device. The robots, and even the exo-skeleton, point to the final inversion of hierarchy where staff work for the tech.

Still, publicity for initiatives like this is not always helpful to the development process, that is why Amazon likes to keep it secret. Once you air it, people can pick it apart for responsibility.

The volume of workplace information on the remaining human staff is set to grow exponentially. Connected devices will report everything. It is commercially sensible for that data to be interrogated and managed. It is, however, also reasonable to ask that systems put the worker, who is a person after all, at the heart of decision-making and integrate a respect for autonomy into design thinking.

Little mention is given to that aspect in the DHL report — for shareholders it is not the best area to highlight. Successfully bringing so much consumer technology, which has already proven itself adept at hoovering data and compromising choices, into companies and workplaces is a minefield that corporates will do well to get ahead of and take a human-centric view on.

An Ethical(?) Vendor

The bottom line is that development and integration of workers while building the tech makes sense. The companies and vendors that keep them there when scaling the technology into a business will succeed in the longer term.

Where these frameworks emerge from is going to be interesting. IoT technology when put into the hands of arch managerialists could be awful. Building tech is not a value free exercise. Its uses are knowable (and often public) its a participatory process to determine what we use them for.

Bye Bye Work

Chin up though. All of our jobs are on a countdown clock anyway.

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