Opinion

How AI will disrupt the service industry in 2019

Before we begin, it’s important to define what is meant by artificial intelligence. When mentioned in the media, AI can mean anything from machine learning in supply chain programming to robot baristas serving your morning flat white.

According to IBM, artificial intelligence (AI) refers to systems that can actually ‘understand, reason, learn and interact’. They use natural language processing and machine learning to analyse data at a tremendous scale and speed. In short, a system that learns by experience.

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It’s easy to shy away from the use or understanding of AI when we’re presented with robots and driverless fleets. However, in 2019, you can expect to see more businesses adopt this innovation with open arms in order to increase efficiency and added value to their bottom line.

But how? Here are the ways that AI will change the service industry in 2019:

Evolving job roles

You’ll only find one human waiter in the coffee shop Ratio in downtown Shanghai. Why? Because the rest of the team are robots. A similar story is taking place in Cafe X in San Francisco where their only barista is a robot. Whilst this might be unnerving for many, the benefits cannot be denied. At Cafe X, their robot can make up to 120 espressos, flat whites and cortados in an hour. Both of the coffee shops mentioned enjoy reduced spending for labour and rent, as one robotic arm takes up much less space than a team of baristas, a cashier and other facilities that we (as humans) are accustomed to such as staff rooms and restrooms.

So what does that mean for jobs that were originally bestowed for humans? It’s important to recognise that, whilst many retail and consumer-facing roles might be compromised in the rise of AI, that in turn many jobs will be created in managing and maintaining these machines.

Further along the supply chain, a study found that job openings for supply chain managers could outnumber prospective employees by a ratio of six to one. Why? Because the role itself will demand more knowledge in controlling AI and analysing data from a smart warehouse.

Quicker deliveries

There are hundreds of examples of how businesses are rapidly improving their lead times, so here are the cases that will we can expect to effect cafes, coffee shops and restaurants alike.

Sina Corp led a $95m funding round for tech startup TuSimple to create 50 driverless lorries by June 2019. When there are so many laws that prevent human drivers from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking a break, it is easy to see why the likes of Amazon are subsidising driverless lorries that can drive for nearly 24 hours per day.

Rolls Royce and Google have recently joined forces to create autonomous ships. Their technology is able to sense what is within their proximity in the water and classify the potential dangers they pose. This means that the likelihood of ships encountering nearby danger or being lost will demise, and supplies can be delivered faster. By 2020, Rolls Royce plan to implement sensors that can track skip engine performance, monitor security, and load and unload cargo.

In consumer-facing areas, there are also companies such as Marble that use robot couriers to deliver food and medicine. The company now have plans to implement temperature control into their robots so they can help keep food hot or cold as it cruises down San Francisco sidewalks to the awaiting customer.

Improved quality of products

Whilst the ethical nature of AI is up for debate, you cannot deny the positive benefits that machine learning will bring to the food and drinks industry. Along the traditional supply chain and in the service industry, clear health and safety regulations and quality assurance are key to prevent human workers from contaminating the products and to ensure that premises are kept hygienic. However, you cannot always entrust that employees will be as diligent as you would like.

IBM and Cornell University have announced a partnership to use AI to identify potential hazards in milk to protect the global milk supply chain. The joint research project will use genetic sequencing and big-data analyses to detect anomalies in raw milk that could incur potential food safety hazards. We can expect initiatives like this to trickle down into other organisations to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks and food spoilage which are such prominent global issues.

So where does this leave the rest of the industry? Whilst it is unlikely to expect robot baristas in every coffee shop by 2019, it is important that all businesses along the supply chain are aware of how innovative organisations are making the first steps towards incorporating AI into their daily business functions. If any of the above, or other aspects that you know of, sound like they could benefit your business, then it is time to seize the moment. By researching the benefits and pitfalls of implementing AI into your strategy today, you can stay well ahead of the pack in 2019 and increase productivity and buzz around your business before you know it.


Gavin Dow is the managing director and founder of Coffee Central, specialist and commercial suppliers of coffee-making equipment and coffee beans

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