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Machines are friends, not foes

Sam Liew, Managing Director, Technology, ASEAN, Accenture | July 22, 2016
Companies that manage a positive relationship with this newest "recruit" (ie. machines) will reap the richest rewards, says Accenture's Sam Liew.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

At Daewoo's shipyard in Okpo-dong, South Korea, workers wearing robotic exoskeletons manipulate 30kg hunks of metal effortlessly into place. The light-weight aluminium alloy and steel frame attached at their feet, thighs, waist and chest easily match their movements, lending them the superhuman strength and precision needed to build massive ships - like the ten 400m-long, 55,000-tonne container ships ordered by Danish shipping giant Maersk. And if its creators have their way, Daewoo's shipbuilders will soon be lifting weights of up to 100kg just as effortlessly.

Around the world, Intelligent Automation is transforming workplaces. Examples of man and machine combining their strengths to redefine the possible abound in sectors from shipping and finance to restaurants and healthcare. And its use is equally diverse. In Singapore, local company T.Ware's wearable technology vest, TJacket, calms autistic children by applying pressure that simulates hugs. The amount of pressure and frequency of hugs are controlled by a smartphone app that also records data to help minders detect patterns and react. And at alfresco restaurant Timbre, autonomous drones will be used to clear dirty dishes from tables.

The increasing sophistication of Intelligent Automation is opening the door to greater possibilities. In fact, Accenture's latest Technology Vision report puts Intelligent Automation as one of five trends we see having a profound impact on businesses in the next three to five years. We expect that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will deliver 30 to 40 percent productivity gains during this period, even in functions that are already automated.

Job roles will change with intelligent automation

Yet excitement about the possibilities of Intelligent Automation is matched by an equal amount of apprehension. Some worry that human workers will be made redundant by technology, and that their jobs will disappear.

Yes, roles will change. But that doesn't mean that jobs will disappear. Siemen's "lights out" manufacturing plant, where production lines can run unsupervised for weeks at a time, is a case in point. Technically, it is fully-automated. In reality, it continues to employ 1,150 employees, now engaged in programming, monitoring and machine maintenance.

At Accenture, we employ 4,000 "mini-bots" in our Operations business. This year, we've reduced over 10,000 roles because of this technology - but we haven't lost a single person. In fact, we've reskilled our people to take on higher-value roles such as in analytics.

Where once automation was used mainly for repetitive tasks, today they offer scale, speed and the ability to cut through complexity, skills that are different from, but complementary to what human workers bring to the table.


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