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People and machines collaborate in the "workforce re-imagined"

Sam Liew, Managing Director and ASEAN Technology Lead at Accenture | Aug. 7, 2015
Forward-looking organisations are building blended workforces to fill the gaps in critical skill areas such as IT, cybersecurity and analysis of huge datasets.

Sam Liew, Accenture
Photo: Sam Liew

The push to go digital is amplifying the need for humans and machines to do more, together. When people and machines collaborate, they have the potential to produce better results than either could separately. Businesses must recognise that technology is no longer just a set of tools; it is now a partner in a new collaborative workforce.

According to 78 percent of executives surveyed in Accenture Technology Vision 2015, successful businesses will manage employees alongside intelligent machines, ensuring the need for collaboration between the two. Seventy-seven percent think that within three years, companies will need to focus on extending the capabilities of machines as well as training their people (for example, using intelligent software, algorithms, and machine learning).

In fact, collaborative technology is already making our everyday lives easier. Consider semi-autonomous cars from manufacturers like Audi, Infiniti, MercedesBenz, General Motors, and Toyota. Each has announced self-driving navigation features that will assist drivers, creating a better, easier, and safer driving experience all around.

Accenture explores the "Workforce Reimagined" trend in the Accenture Technology Vision 2015. Benefits include the ability to automate tasks, improve processes and contribute to a positive feedback loop. This results in increased intelligence, performance and productivity across the enterprise.

The blended workforce has been made possible by advances in robotics and wearable technologies, as well as human-machine interfaces. This could not be at a more opportunistic time.

In the race to become digital, companies are encountering global talent shortages in critical skill areas such as IT, cybersecurity and analysis of huge datasets. This has caused a digital talent war that is hot now and will get hotter. Forward-looking organisations are building blended workforces to fill these skill gaps.

As more and more smart machines are working interactively with people, companies can divide and distribute the tasks that play to each side's strengths: machines for precision, scale and consistency and humans for creativity and contextual decision-making prowess.

Some 57 percent of survey respondent companies said that they are adopting technologies that enable business users to complete tasks that previously required IT experts such as data visualisation.

For instance, in an auto-manufacturing trial, a human–robot team assembled a car frame. The robot had a video projector that showed the person exactly where to put different parts and then made perfect welds in just five seconds per weld. For more complex welds, the robot deferred to its partner. Together, they completed the project 10 times faster than a team of three human professionals could have done.

While the blended workforce promises significant advantages, capturing these advantages will require fundamental changes in organisations. This will also raise new challenges in managing a collaborative workforce of people and machines.


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