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As the calendar year comes to a close, it seems like we spend a lot of time thinking and planning for what comes next. In that same spirit, Accenture conducted its first Technology Vision survey, polling more than 2,000 business and technology executives across nine countries and 10 industries, in order to understand key technology challenges. One of the key trends (Trend #5) identified in the report is a reimagined workforce where humans and machines work collaboratively.

As construction equipment becomes more technology-enabled, similar considerations will be the focus of work site efficiency. Here are some quick highlights that might get you thinking about what role technology could play in the future of your operation.

The push to go digital is bringing people and machines together to do more work. Advances in interfaces, wearable devices and smart machines will present new opportunities for companies to empower their workers through technology. Successful businesses of the future will recognize the benefits of a skilled workforce and intelligent technology working side by side—and will embrace them both as important members of a reimagined workforce.

What’s On the Horizon?
Take a look at some of the advances noted in the report that will impact the collaborative efforts of people and technology-enabled machines:

Maturing technology: Advances in natural language processing (NLP) are making it much easier for humans to interact naturally with technology and machines. NLP is expected to grow rapidly to a $10 billion market by 2018. Advances in wearable computing are allowing workers to integrate more technology seamlessly into their workflows.

Human-like interactions: Baidu (China’s most dominant search engine) chief scientist Andrew Ng predicts that voice and image searches on Baidu will surpass text queries within five years—an indication of growing expectations for more human-like interactions with intelligent software. Can Google be far behind?

Fast ROI: Gartner, Inc. (technology research and advisory company) predicts that “by 2018, the total cost of ownership for business operations will be 30 percent lower than today because of the wider use of smart machines and services.”

Improved efficiency: Gartner forecasts that in 2017, savings in the field service industry will increase $1 billion due to smart glasses alone.

Worker/operator/driver safety: Most of the resources that are easily accessible from the earth (oil and gas, minerals, energy) have been extracted. Resource companies are sending humans on more and more dangerous missions in more and more remote regions. The need for autonomous and semi-autonomous equipment to work together with humans and keep them safer is becoming more prevalent.

This same type of “automatic” technology is protecting people in heavy urban traffic. For instance, Mercedes-Benz S-Class drivers in Europe can press a button on the car’s steering wheel to activate Intelligent Drive, enabling the system to temporarily take over braking, steering and acceleration up to 37 miles per hour. Of course, this feature doesn’t offer anything new that a human driver can’t already do, but it takes advantage of the machine’s unique capabilities so people can avoid becoming fatigued or distracted—thus increasing vehicle and passenger safety.

And out-of-this-world safety is actually a reality. The U.S. space agency NASA is teaming astronauts and robots together to face the difficult and dangerous task of cleaning up derelict satellites. Outfitted with advanced analytic algorithms and stereoscopic cameras, robot spheres are analyzing space junk to quickly map each piece’s spin, velocity, trajectory and center of mass—allowing astronauts to capture it safely.

These examples demonstrate just how effective people and machines can be when they work together. The companies that are successfully embracing the reimagined workforce—in which people and machines work as a collaborative team—are growing their competitive edge in this new digital world.

Look again at the scenarios from NASA and Mercedes-Benz. Both focus on the advanced software and robotics that drive these machines to act intelligently on their own. However, of equal note are the advancements in how people interact with the technology.

The next generation of businesses will be composed of people and technology working side by side to achieve better results and tackle bigger challenges.

To best embrace this shift, companies will have to train their employees to collaborate effectively with technology—and, in some cases, teach and guide the technology as if it were an apprentice. Smart machines now have the ability to interact with, train and learn from humans, and this enables them to perform better over time. By creating a positive cycle of collaboration between people and machines, enterprises can drastically improve the outputs of both and embrace the digital age with a reimagined workforce.

Explore all the other trends in the full report: