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Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics are increasingly helping businesses cut costs, launch new services and move up the value chain in a number of industries.

But an outmoded approach to deploying technology risks a major clash between human and machines in the workplace and the marketplace, according to consulting and professional services firm Accenture.

Its latest major report, We, The Post-Digital People: Can your enterprise survive the ‘tech-clash? Is based on a survey of over 6,000 IT and business executives from around the world. It found that only 37 per cent of organisations are using inclusive design or human-centric design principles to support human-machine collaboration.

While many expected an acceleration in the use of robotics in the coming years, 45 per cent of those surveyed thought their employees would struggle to adapt to working with robots. Three-quarters of the executives agreed that their organisations would have to “dramatically re-engineer” the experience as they increasingly bring people and technology together.

The research speaks to a need to focus on issues such as security, privacy and ethics to a greater degree while designing user experiences to suit the needs of a workforce and customers grappling with rapid change.

Put humans at the centre

“Bolting technology onto existing ways of doing business isn’t enough,” says Paul Hearnden, Accenture New Zealand Technology Lead.

“Human-centred design should be the cornerstone of everything that you do.”

Part of that was introducing more transparency in how data is used by the organisation, from a customer using a chatbot for customer service on a website, to employees having input into how AI systems are deployed in their workplace. 

“Customers aren’t going to be comfortable submitting to black-box techniques,” says Hearnden.

“So much of business today is about recurring revenue and building a long-lasting relationship with customers. It’s not a one-way transaction any more. It’s not technology for technology’s sake, you need to build that trust with the customer.”

Accenture suggests that navigating this ‘tech clash’ will be a key challenge for leaders in organisations over the next decade as we move beyond automation of processes and streamlining of services to more fundamental human-machine interaction.

Hearnden says it is important for organisations to develop their “innovation DNA”. More disruptive technology, form distributed ledgers to quantum computing, would 

“We are now at an important leadership inflection point – and must shift our mindset from ‘just because’ to ‘trust because’,” says Hearnden.

“[It is] reexamining our fundamental business and technology models and creating a new basis for business resiliency and growth.”

An AI autumn?

The Accenture report arrives as separate research suggests many businesses are failing to capitalise on existing investments in artificial intelligence. The Boston Consulting Group, in a survey of 2,500 executives conducted with MIT, found that seven out of 10 companies reported minimal or no impact from AI on their business so far. 

Of the 90 per cent of companies that have invested in AI, fewer than two out of five report business gains from AI in the last three years.

“The crux is that while some companies have clearly figured out how to be successful, most companies have a hard time generating value with AI,” the researchers write. 

“As a result, many executives find themselves facing a set of AI realities: AI is a source of untapped opportunity, it is an existential risk, and it is difficult. Above all, it is an urgent issue to address.”

In its quarterly technology special, The Economist suggests that years of AI hype, where the technology’s potential hasn’t translate to real gains for many businesses, could lead to an AI autumn in the coming years, where 

“Modern AI techniques are powerful, they are also limited, and they can be troublesome and difficult to deploy,” the Economist editorial notes.

Five themes from Accenture’s report:

The I in Experience – Five in six business and IT executives surveyed (85%) believe that competing successfully in this new decade requires organisations to elevate their relationships with customers as partners.

AI and Me – Artificial intelligence (AI) should be an additive contributor to how people perform their work, rather than a backstop for automation. Only 37% of organisations report using inclusive design or human-centric design principles to support human-machine collaboration.

The Dilemma of Smart Things – Nearly three-quarters (74%) of executives report that their organisation’s connected products and services will have more, or significantly more, updates over the next three years.

Robots in the Wild – With 5G poised to rapidly accelerate this fast-growing trend, every enterprise must rethink its future through the lens of robotics. 45 per cent of executives say their employees will be challenged to figure out how to work with robots, while 55% believe that their employees will easily figure out how to work with them.

Innovation DNA – Three-quarters (76%) of executives believe that the stakes for innovation have never been higher, so getting it “right” will require new ways of innovating with ecosystem partners and third-party organisations.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

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