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As the automation revolution becomes a reality, more people are asking themselves one question. Can my tasks be performed by a robot? The short answer is, yes. According to a 2013 study at the Oxford Martin School, automation will affect “about 47 percent of total U.S. employment” in the next two decades. The study noted that the most vulnerable jobs were in transportation, logistics, and administration. A check of this interactive job tool created by NPR shows that machines will replace 97% of drivers, tellers, and tax preparers in the next 20 years. So, what does this automation revolution mean for jobs in the professional services industry?

How Automation Affects Professional Services

While it may seem like a far-off future, it is already happening. According to Martin Ford, author of Riseof the Robots, “it’s becoming evident that computers, machines, robots, and algorithms are going to be able to do most of the routine, repetitive types of jobs.” Service jobs that rely on computations, research, or repetitive tasks are at the highest risk for automation. This means that many professional service jobs will phase out in two or three decades. This includes accountants, security guards, call center employees, legal associates, and computer programmers. For instance, law clerks study case laws, collect research, and prepare documents for court. These actions are predictable, so algorithms can do the work much faster and for less money.

Fighting the Rise of the Robots

In the 1800s, English textile workers, known as Luddites, smashed new textile-making machines. As the industrial revolution rose, workers feared that their trades would become obsolete. Of course, the textile industry did not disappear, it just evolved. Today, Luddite is a term to describe anyone who opposes automation and new technologies. We are in the midst of a second Luddite movement. Workers foresee a future where automation is again threatening to replace future industries. Some fear a future of 50% unemployment rates that will lead to a society of slackers and no opportunities. Others see automation leading to a new age of art, exploration, and scientific discoveries. It may propel humankind into a utopian society where no one works. Of course, the reality will land us somewhere in the middle. So, what can the professional services industry do to prepare for an automated future?

The Future of Professional Services

The professional services industry is on the brink of disruption. We can no longer ignore the realities of nonlinear growth through digitization. Companies must embrace new digital business models in four key areas to stay competitive. Digitized knowledge and expertise need to be accessible to customers. Digitized talent must provide complete solutions and deliver value to clients. Digitized service execution should leverage opportunities to scale and create new customer offerings. Digitized customer engagement must become more self-service oriented to attract and keep clients. By not keeping up with these digital trends, existing service businesses will fall behind. New players to the professional service industry are pushing digitization and automation. Clients who also do not want to fall behind will go to firms that are moving forward with the times. Some service providers are already embracing transformative business models and creating digital spinoffs, such as Deloitte Digital and Accenture Digital. By accepting the new digital reality, professional services firms will make the industry better. Clients will receive more transparency, better pricing, and improved customer service. Firms will generate nonlinear growth, develop innovative practices, and be able to scale their business in new ways.

Why Automation is Good for Professional Services

The invention of the automobile phased out the need for horses and carriages. But it also gave people new access to explore the world in better, faster ways. Today, the era of human-driven cars is transitioning into the age of self-driving cars. This will revolutionize transportation safety, commute times, and travel efficiencies. Technology requires change to improve lives. It is unavoidable and inevitable. The advancement of technology moves forward, whether we like it or not. This is also true for the evolution of automation in professional services. New business models will digitize information and automate services. This will result in a global reach that can affect more lives than ever before. More specialized talent will perform higher quality services. An increase in productivity will lead to higher customer satisfaction. Businesses will expand as the industry reaches new customers. Clients will desire higher-value services. Freelance and contract jobs will grow as the global contingent workforce expands. Delivery of services will become faster and more efficient. The future of automation is not the end of professional service. It is the beginning of exceptional service.

Welcoming the Robots with Open Human Arms

It may be true that in the next 20 years, algorithms will replace 94% of accountants. Computerized call centers will replace 75% of call center employees. Computer operated security cameras will replace 89% of security guards. Robots will replace 71% of service technicians. High-speed data centers will replace 66% of legal associates. And self-programmable computers will replace 48% of computer programmers. It is unlikely that this will lead to the end of all human workers in the professional services industry. Automation will just change these roles as the industry grows. Digital innovations and competition will push the industry forward. With lower costs, better quality, and improved productivity likely the result. The digital age can lead to a future filled with new promise and opportunities for humankind. The landscape will be different, but it will also be better. Or, the robot overlords will enslave us all. Only time will tell.

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