Co-Founder of the Source Global Research
Fiona Czerniawska is a leading commentator on the professional services sector, especially the consulting industry. She is the founder and director of Source, a leading research and strategy firm, specialising in the professional services sector. Fiona has more than 20 years’ experience as a management consultant, primarily working in the areas of marketing and strategy, initially with PwC, before moving on to be head of the strategy and business planning for EY in the UK. She lectures and writes extensively on the consulting industry and related issues, working with a variety of universities and business schools. Her books include The Intelligent Client and Management Consulting in Practice: Award-Winning International Case Studies. She is also the co-author of Business Consulting: A Guide to How it Works and How to Make it Work and Buying Professional Services, both published by The Economist.
Why Organisations Will Never Be Run by Machines: Automation, the Future of Work, and What it Means for People
It’s been predicted that as many as 800 million jobs may disappear by 2030 as a result of increased automation, but what does this mean for the professional services sector? Does it signify simply a shift in how we buy and sell professional expertise, or is a dystopian future full of robots and unemployed public relations experts just around the corner?
The answer to that question depends on two factors: How clients’ perceptions are re-shaping the professional services sector at a fundament level, and the way in which professional services firms respond. Clients increasingly distinguish between low-cost and high-value professional services. The first encompasses a vast range of services that clients are familiar with, so speed and cost-efficiency are key to success. But the second is typically focused on unfamiliar areas, which means that innovation and the ability to think on your feet are vital. Robotic process automation is already replacing many of the standardised, repeatable processes in the first market, while artificial intelligence may provide tools that supplement work in the second. While the second may, in theory, give professional service firms an opportunity to raise their prices, the former will pull fee rates down. A third of clients say that they’d expect to pay less for services in which human expertise has been replaced by software. The response of many professional service firms has been to focus on robotic process automation—to protect their margins by bringing down the costs of delivery ahead of potential price reductions. But the opportunity here is not just to provide a cheaper service, but a better one—and that’s only going to be achieved by redefining what professional services are, reinventing the roles of those involved in delivering professional services, and rethinking the types of skills required. In this context, collaboration between people working in different disciplines will be central to success.