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March 22, 2018
The new trio of workplace advantage
By: Raghav Narsalay

Using machines to complement, rather than substitute, human workers will allow companies to reinvent themselves and their industries.

Most business leaders see the potential for digital technologies to bring about transformation and growth. And many are making big investments in a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies, including Artificial Intelligence systems.

In a recent survey, we asked more than 900 executives across 12 industries around the world, to identify capabilities from a list of five—innovation ecosystems, intelligent processes and platforms, experience design and deployment, human-machine interworking and digital ready leadership—that can help them reduce operating costs and enhance customer engagement over the next three years.i

Their top choice? Intelligent processes and platforms combined with human-machine interworking. (See diagram below). Clearly, executives want to use machines to intelligently complement, not substitute, human workers as they strive to digitally reinvent their industries.

Source: Accenture Industry X.0 research

However, some recent thought leadership on AI seems to portray human expertise and machine expertise as rivals. Instead of suggesting measures companies must take to intelligently complement human workers with machines, such articles ask them to evaluate the number of human hours that can be automated. This clearly pushes a “substitution” mindset.

At Accenture, we firmly believe that to digitally reinvent industries, companies must embrace the mindset of human-machine complementarity. Intelligent processes must allow human-machine symbiosis to build more customer-friendly and efficient outcomes.

The automaker Mercedes-Benz is a case in point. Mercedes-Benz offers with its S-class sedan a host of options for personalizing their cars. The auto manufacturer found that its factory robots could not keep up with the many variants it needed to produce. So, Mercedes ripped out its older stationery, fenced-in robots; brought in smaller, more flexible robots; and hired more factory line workers. Instead of automating its workforce, its human workers started intelligently collaborating with robots to produce better customized cars.

“Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” says, Markus Schaefer, the German automaker’s head of production. He also aims to reduce the time to build a car in half, from 61 to 30 hours. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people ... We're moving away from trying to maximize automation with people taking a bigger part in industrial processes again,” he said while sharing his views on the future human-machine collaboration.ii

Airbus too has experienced gains from human-machine collaboration. It equips factory workers with industrial-grade smart glasses to determine aircraft-cabin seating design. Using contextual-marking instructions, the smart glasses display the required information for workers to mark the cabin floor quickly and accurately—for seating to be installed. The glasses also let workers scan barcodes printed on the cabin parts, retrieving critical equipment information from the cloud and displaying it on the glasses through augmented reality, all with voice commands. As a result, productivity for the cabin-seat marking process has improved by 500 percent, and customers of Airbus are happy, as the error rate has dropped to zero.iii

The writing on the wall is clear. Humans, machines and intelligence are the new trio of creating valuable efficiencies and experiences. Companies that open their operations, supply chains and business models to this triad will lead in the new. Those choosing to be trapped in the "simply automate” mindset will keep languishing outside looking in on this new digital era.


Learn more about Accenture's Industry X.0 capabilities.


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i The following are descriptions of each of the capabilities:

Innovation ecosystems are open, collaborative and secure organizational approaches helping companies leverage the ecosystem, to create a steady and continuous stream of innovation.
Intelligent processes and platforms are factory processes and platforms equipped with advanced analytics with an artificial intelligence (AI) overlay allowing companies to anticipate and integrate changing customer preferences at speed.
Experience design and deployment help businesses develop and launch a suite of connected and intelligent products delivering hyper-personalized experiences through new touchpoints, interactions and contexts across the product lifecycle.
Human-machine interworking is a committed, adaptive and symbiotic association between humans and machines across the enterprise, and in particular, the factory to allow dynamic task (re)assignment, re-skilling and on-the-job training to facilitate greater experimentation.
Digital ready leadership is about having leaders across different parts of the organization being open to integrating machines in the decision-making processes, thereby enhancing decision-making speed, and encouraging reflection on alternative business futures.

ii Elisabeth Behrmann and Christoph Rauwald (2016), "Why Mercedes is halting robots’ reign on the production line," February 01 2018.

iiiAirbus soars with wearables”, Accenture Consulting, July 21, 2017.

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