Procurement trends: Cleaning robots en route, and on the payments front, there’s crypto currencies

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Hundreds of thousands of attendees around the world gathered for the virtual Web Summit, the world’s largest technology conference that brings together leaders from all kinds of industries.

The topics covered also varied, so we looked for trends that could find their way into procurement in the future. We found some interesting sessions on service robots and crypto currencies. In separate sessions, of course!

Robots can solve a lot of headaches for mid-market companies

The time to put investment dollars behind robotics is now, according to Conor McGinn, the CEO of Akara Robotics. Akara is known for its creation of a robot made to help the healthcare industry. Its speciality is disinfecting hospital rooms to reduce the time it takes to clean rooms.

McGinn said there is an increasing role for robotics to tackle human jobs, a shift that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Robotics are a market that is continually growing around the world. While it may not have mass adoption yet, McGinn said early adopters need to be proactive now to showcase the potential of robots.

One of the biggest hurdles remains in the financial challenges that can be present. Robots don’t come cheap. McGinn said many robotics companies use a capital expenditure model where the buyer has to front all the cost at once. Instead, Akara Robotics and others are developing robots that are offered on a service-based model so that companies don’t need to dole out $80,000 to $150,000 upfront.

Ultimately, financial challenges should be considered with the return on investment, McGinn said.

“Having a very good understanding of the cost savings so that you can predict to some degree of certainty what the return on investment is crucial,” McGinn said. “In a hospital setting, like radiology, it currently takes a long time to clean rooms, which is a big problem for workflow. It means that a radiology department can’t process the same number of patients a day that it used to. If you’re able to reduce the time it takes to clean those rooms, while not compromising the standard of cleaning, then we can increase capacity in which case we can predict accurately the cost savings to the hospital.”

McGinn said that the Akara robot can free up around 20 beds a day and has led to 30% fewer infections because of its cleaning capability.

Other issues that McGinn identified in the adoption of robotics include the overlooking of operational challenges. Right now, robots are technically able to perform tasks, but those creating the robots have overlooked all the possibilities of the technology. McGinn said it’s essential that there is collaboration between the builders and users of robots.

Another challenge is regulations — there is a lack of clarity about who holds the liability if a robot makes a mistake. Again, McGinn said these issues can be solved through meaningful collaboration.

It’s not just the big-name hospitals or tech giants that can use robots to their advantage either. McGinn said robots also are commercially viable for the mid-market — small and medium-size enterprises.

“If the company has been around for quite a while and it’s profitable, now is an excellent time to engage with technology developers,” McGinn said. “Two, three years ago when we were developing a previous robot and we were targeting nursing homes, we initially looked at the big players. Organizations that had multiple facilities in the US.

“It was later that we realized much smaller organizations offered a bigger market potential because if they used the technology while they were still quite small, it could enable them to scale much faster. While a company is still small and versatile, working with a robotics company and package can give them a competitive advantage to the bigger competitors.”

New era of payments, crypto currencies, accelerated by Covid-19

In another session, Sanja Kon, the CEO of Utrust, spoke to the important role of blockchain-based payments systems.

Blockchain or digital currency payments may seem like a radical move to the future that leaves traditionalists puzzled. However, Kon argued that digital currency is just part of a larger evolution of money.

“If we’re talking about the future, we need to understand that the financial system as we know it today is the result of a changing evolution,” Kon said. “Money has always evolved over time to meet the needs of a changing society. Our financial system is still constantly changing as the world shifts over and over.”

Since the earliest days of civilization, money has evolved. Society moved from a bartering system to a gold system to metal coins to paper to credit cards. Now, society is shifting into the realm of electronic money like PayPal or Venmo. The next frontier will be crypto currencies.

Kon said there are many benefits of digital currencies for both the buyers and sellers. On the consumer side, crypto currencies provide real ownership of money, elimination of banking fees, borderless payments and more accessibility.

For sellers, there are the benefits of a drastic reduction of payment processing fees (a difference between 3% to 9% in fees), elimination of chargebacks, access to new revenue streams through new customers (young, educated, tech savvy) and borderless payments.

Kon said adoption is rising, with more than 100 million crypto currency users and growing. Governments like China’s are looking into launching their own nation-state currency, which more countries will likely do as well. Kon said it’s only a matter of time before crypto currencies become mainstream.

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