08 December 2017
BY NIAMH KINGSLEY

Society, and the problems faced by those who work within it, is fluid, dynamic, and highly demanding. The services provided by professionals and experts who seek to remedy these problems must therefore be innovative and efficient. Until the 21st century this has been a relatively linear process of resources evolving alongside technological improvements, but with increasingly capable artificial intelligence emerging, we are in the midst of a definitive paradigm shift in the professional services.

In the height of the Information Age, the way that people access information and expertise to solve problems has completely changed. In The Economic Singularity , artificial intelligence expert Calum Chace poses that AI is the single greatest development of the 21st century, and the most immediate threat to people who work in professional services. Chace argues that there is no doubt that at some point in the near future many professions will become redundant, such as accountants, doctors, lawyers and consultants. This is also the central premise of Daniel and Richard Susskind’s book The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts .

Many professions are already outdated and overpriced, compared to their emerging machine-based alternatives. In their everyday life, people increasingly turn to the internet over their GP to address health concerns. There are now software solutions provided by financial technology companies which offer innovative contract intelligence that in turn continue to reduce demand on lawyers and accountants. IBM’s “Watson” (the supercomputer that seamlessly marries artificial intelligence with top-end analytical software) is able to outplay the best human strategy board game players and continues to do what human analysts and communicators are unable to. In addition, Bank of America’s intelligent virtual assistant “Erica” has provided an unprecedented volume of financial guidance and market analysis in the past year. The exponential growth of technology in life sciences and big data is constantly overhauling the way we live. This evolution is clear in the financial services industry, with firms heavily investing in digital banking, virtual auditing, and intelligent machine learning divisions.

However, there is scope to disagree with the conclusion that all professional services are being priced out of the market. Consultants, like other professionals, face an uncertain future, and yet have a key strength in being adaptable by the nature of their work. So long as there is an economy, there will be problems to remedy within it. It is undoubtedly the case that those problems will require proficiency in coding, an understanding of Blockchain, nuanced subject-matter experts (SMEs), and determination to stand out in new dynamic environments; but it is also the case that consultants make use of new information sources just like the clients that they provide for. Banks are certainly eager to implement new structures and technologies, but that cannot be done effectively without the assistance of people who have prior experience or the basic knowledge necessary to do so.

The consequence of this shifting paradigm is, for consulting, two-fold: first of all, clients must continue to utilise consultants as valuable resources that complement technology and innovation, and second, consultants must seize the opportunity to improve their skillset and sell themselves as the bridge across the shift.

Ultimately a paradigm shift does not have to be totally exclusionary. Consultants are uniquely placed to adapt, innovate, and take advantage of an exciting and changing professional landscape by taking on new skills and listening to the demands of clients as they take a step in to the unknown.

References

Brynjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A. (2016) The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies.

Chace, C. (2016) The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism.

Ford, M. (2015) Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.

Susskind, R. and Susskind, D. (2016) The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts.

Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less for Each Other.