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  • Chang Industrial

Engineering Innovation by Focusing on People


[Innovation can engender negative connotations for many people, emanating from their fear of change and its unknown implications or consequences to the nature of work and the potential elimination of jobs. In our new business operating environment of accelerating change, ongoing education and case studies are critically needed to demonstrate to business leaders and employees how changing conventional ways of doing things can lead to better, safer, more rewarding workplaces and enhanced careers and industry leadership. The ability of innovation and technology to enrich industries and communities is only beginning. It is still underserved and “a wide-open space” for application in many companies.

Innovation needs to be explained as a mindset and collective endeavor that constantly challenges the status quo and seeks to create “new” best practices. It is taking a fresh view to a problem and using creativity to seek alternatives to traditional solutions. This innovative thinking process allows us all to work together to address problems that have never been solved before.


To help explore this business innovation dynamic and illustrate how this can transform businesses and upskill employees, it is important to look across different industries and learn how innovators there are applying technology and innovation in their endeavors. To that end, we appreciated being introduced to Matthew Chang, Founder of Chang Industrial (and its DBA, Chang Robotics) -- an innovative engineering firm with a focus on transformational technology, collaborative robotics, and autonomous systems. He has been widely recognized for driving his firm and industry to new levels of innovation and creative applications in the field of autonomous systems. We asked him questions to better understand his human-centered approach to deploying new technologies with a strong bias towards the future.]

 

Hortz: How do you drive innovation in your firm?

Chang: We are dedicated to technology with a bias towards autonomous and robotic solutions and we are also very much into community building. We spend a lot of time and effort pulling people together as we believe technology is all about people and the power of community.

In terms of our mindset on people, we start with the people in our firm. We have a different model of recruiting, developing, and retaining talent than the rest of the industry. We have more flexible and innovative practices for managing our teams. Most employers have a standard way of doing business, standard work practices, standard office practices. We, on the other hand, have committed to lasting change in managing a workforce. This is a competitive strength of ours because of the way we look at our team members and we realize how not doing so has become a major weakness for most established employers. They are completely not prepared for the demographic change happening in the workforce.

In running a modern innovative workforce, you have to ask what happens when millennials run your whole company and Gen Zs are your primary production force. As older boomers on the borderline of the previous generation begin to leave the workforce, there is going to be a dramatic and painful cultural shift in all companies, especially larger companies that have established HR policies and practices. And these companies are going to have a lot of trouble making a pivot towards being a desirable place for younger generations to want to work.


Hortz: How do you address these demographic workplace challenges to build a modern, innovative workforce?

Chang: So, we focused on a couple of things. Number one is we have a flat org chart and we do not use titles. We intentionally do not use titles and we do not have hierarchy on purpose to create a mutual respect for everyone. I give the same responsibility and delegation to our Gen Z employees as I do to our Gen X and baby boomers. It is my belief, having had many titles in corporate America, the more titles you have and the more layers you have in your company, that does not create mutual respect. There is a clear hierarchy and a pecking order. And we stayed disciplined in that mindset and management approach as our company has grown. It has led to surprising outperformance in the younger generation which leads to a stickiness of their desire to work for us.

The second thing that mindset does is it keeps our older workers very engaged because they really enjoy collaborating on an equal footing with younger people. They may have more wisdom, but they may be slower in some areas versus the younger digital natives so everyone has benefits that they can contribute to our work product.

The other thing that comes with this policy is that many workplaces were very disadvantageous for people going through parenting or maternity events or basically having to deal with life. But at Chang industrial, we work hard to create an environment of work excellence and professionalism with the balance of parenting and family life. So that creates a stickiness again with our team members and it catches that middle band that is between the younger workers and the 60 Plus crowd.

And this comes along with the messaging that we only accept a great work product. There are no mediocre days at Chang Industrial and that gives people the personal accountability when they show up to work, even though they are remote or need flexibility options, that they are bringing their best. I tell people I would rather have your best for 20 hours a week rather than good work for 40 hours a week.


Hortz: How do you address business leaders that are against automation and robotics and see only workforce threats?

Chang: The simple analogy I give to people who are afraid of automation and robotics -- I say OK, go ahead and give up your computer. When that technology was introduced, similar concerns were voiced. So, do you want to go back to that, and can you imagine taking computers off everyone’s desk because of the fear of the technology and the potential for displacement of workers and jobs? Well, that is where we are today. In the not-too-distant future, taking away an employee's robot or AI-automated system would be akin to taking away your computer and sending us back to a completely analog mode of doing business.

Technology is just going to unlock, in my opinion, human productivity (which includes employee satisfaction) leading to a more robust American economy and lower prices. So it is, in my view, one of the most important things we can do in the long term to fight against inflation. If we can augment human productivity and increase human output using technology, then we are going to naturally produce more with less, we are going to have lower costs of goods, and that will help in the long-term fight against price inflation on consumer goods and cost of living.


Hortz: How then do you focus on people with your clients? How do you apply your technology to help enrich or transform your clients’ businesses and their position in their industries?

Chang: The other part of our people equation is for our customers who are usually trying to implement automation and robotic solutions in their workplace. It is kind of the physical side of the AI revolution because most of our robotics are powered by AI. What we are doing with the modern workforce here is we are looking to augment their workforce. And so, we want to do a couple of things in that pursuit.

We want their workforce to upskill because the workers at our clients will have the additional skill of being robotic technicians and learning or configuring how to best work with robots and automation. The second thing is for them to enjoy an easier workplace environment because it is less physically demanding or mentally draining with repetitive work patterns. That is why we are putting the robots in to do the physical and draining work. And then finally, as you have created a more friendly ergonomic environment in a more friendly career development environment that leads to higher employee retention.

One of the unseen forces in the workplace right now is the fact that if you segment employees by pay band, lower pay bands in most workplaces have atrocious turnover which creates a tremendous hiring and training burden on the corporations. So, if we can take that lower band of employees to be motivated to self-select into robotic and autonomous systems training, they have now built a new career and they have a similar sticky relationship at their place of employment because they know their employer invested in them and is giving them the best technology to work with. They would also get pay raises for their new skills and certifications. And if they go work anywhere else, they are going to have to go back to the status quo of whatever that manual labor environment was.

We have been successful now in demonstrating this transformation in advanced manufacturing, ecommerce, and healthcare, specifically in hospitals. Our desire is to reduce employee turnover and increase employee satisfaction. And then, to augment that person's capabilities where the 1.0 person should be able to do 2.0 worth of work once they are enhanced by automation and robotics.


Hortz: Do you see any applications for financial services?

Chang: Oh, absolutely. We just had a venture competition in Jacksonville where we profiled five startups who are competing for a funded round of venture capital. One of the companies was a FinTech startup that is creating a win-win for banks and consumers by offering automated loan origination at the $20,000 to $50,000 price point where the bank usually does not offer loan products. There are just not enough fees in it for them to go through the whole process of underwriting and loan generation.

In response to that problem, a company from Atlanta called MOMNT (think “moment of need” lending), pitched and explained how through using AI and machine learning, they are creating an underwriting process that happens instantaneously at the point of sale, as an example, for a personal loan for surgical procedures and home improvement that can create deal flow for the banks through this kind of automation. It brings banks new customers which they can then cross-sell more exotic and expensive loan products to down the line. And then the consumer has access to those optional home improvement upgrades and surgeries not covered by insurance which is facilitated by a FinTech application in the middle.

So yes, I think you are going to see how automation will bring a dramatic change to the financial services industry. PayPal was the first step in democratizing financial services to the everyday citizen. And now you will be seeing so many different consumer-oriented or small business-oriented products coming from FinTech companies. If you can create autonomous systems that can integrate the various banking or financial system pieces, you can get an instantaneous result.


Hortz: What is next for Chang Industrial and Chang Robotics?

Chang: We are advancing a number of futuristic robotics and AI-driven implementations in 2024 and 2025 that you can read about on our website. In our IP Studio, we are working on deep integration with Kodiak Technologies and Roush to bring Hybrid and EV technology to commercial/industrial machines in ways that have not been done before beginning with industrial snowblowers, which you can read about here. In every case, people and innovation are the critical key.

 

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We operate as a business innovation platform and educational resource with FinTech and financial services firm members to openly share their unique perspectives and activities. The goal is to build awareness and stimulate open thought leadership discussions on new or evolving industry approaches and thinking to facilitate next-generation growth, differentiation, and unique client/community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors — Ultimus Fund Solutions, NASDAQ, FLX Networks, TIFIN, Advisorpedia, Pershing, Fidelity, Voya Financial, and Charter Financial Publishing.


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