Digital Disruption: The Future of Professional Services – which jobs will be at risk

Digital Disruption: The Future of Professional Services – which jobs will be at risk

“The Future of the Professions” predicts job decline. In an Internet society, according to Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, we will neither need, nor want, doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, consultants, lawyers, and many others, to work as they did in the 20th century.

Not only will work practices change but the numbers of people involved in the process will decline significantly. Using the models provided by the BBC, Deloitte and Oxford University, we quantify the projected loss in the different sectors over the next twenty years.

The Future of the Professions explains how artificial intelligence will bring fundamental change in the way the ‘practical expertise’ of specialists is made available. In the digital age, our current professions appear antiquated and opaque. Traditional business models are vulnerable to digital disruption given free access to the internet of knowledge by things of choice.

Professions will be forced to confront the challenges of automation, innovation, online access and different ways of communication. Accessing data and managing data has never been as easy or as affordable. Businesses are adapting to the virtual workforce with remote working, home working and above all access to specialist expertise on an ad hoc basis.

For businesses and individuals, this is the era of information liberalisation. Access to online self help, with crowd collaboration and experience sharing means individuals can receive personalised advice as never before.

In Sickness and in health

Some of the great changes will occur in the medical profession. Already, devices like Jawbone, Fitbit and MyFitnessPal are able to generate large volumes of data, for self health monitoring including pulse rates, calorie burn, sleep patterns and happiness levels in real time 24/7. This is the era of the wearables.

Artificial Intelligence is helping too. In December 2014, the US Department of Veterans Affairs signed a $6 million contract with IBM’s Watson to advise on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In March 2015, Novartis announced a deal with Google to develop a contact lens that monitors blood sugar levels.

Developments in “wearables” will be mirrored by developments in ingestibles. A series of nano products will enable internal monitoring and adjustment. A sort of “swallow your surgeon” option with nano devices wandering around the blood stream annihilating problematic cell structures in free time.

In Eric Topol’s The patient will see you now! Eric argues the future of medicine will be in your own hands. you could use your smartphone to get rapid test results from one drop of blood, monitor your vital signs both day and night, and use an artificially intelligent algorithm to receive a diagnosis without having to see a doctor. All at a small fraction of the cost imposed by our modern healthcare system.

Computers will replace physicians for many diagnostic tasks. “The robot will see you now!” Massive, open, online medicine, where diagnostics are done by Facebook-like comparisons of medical profiles, will enable real-time, real-world research on large population samples.

In Star Trek, a medical tricorder is used by doctors to help diagnose diseases and collect body information about a patient. A tricorder in every home should be the aim of a future NHS. Buy one get one free, would guarantee a second opinion. Bulk buying options would cater for hypochondriacs with a basic mistrust of the medical profession.


In Education, there are already huge changes taking place as a result of digital disruption. It is estimated the over one billion education apps are installed on digital devices around the world.

In “Learning with Big Data, The Future of Education: Viktor MayerSchönberger and Kenneth Cuvier Courses” talk of courses tailored to fit individual pupils and textbooks that talk back. This is tomorrow’s education landscape, thanks to the power of big data. These advances go beyond the much-discussed rise of online courses.

The surge in MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses is surrendering to SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses). Harvard, one of the world’s most influential universities, is evaluating a move to Spocs. Consider that each month half a billion people dip into 35 million articles on Wikipedia. Every expert in the world on any subject is just one click away using Google Search. The era of the “Sage on the Stage” is ending. The concept of “The Guide on the Side” will emerge. The digital age, is an age of snap learning. Two minute video clips and 140 characters on Twitter are conditioning students to reject the lengthy tomb and learned paper.

Legal and Accountancy

In the legal profession, huge disruption is already taking place with the emergence of paralegals, automation, AI and the break down of the classic legal partnership function.

In “Tomorrow’s lawyers” Richard Susskind suggests, the legal profession will change more rapidly over the next twenty years, than it has over the last two hundred years. Susskind sees a legal world of virtual courts, Internet-based global legal businesses, online document production, commoditised service, legal process outsourcing, and web-based simulated practice. Legal markets will be liberalized. Yet, far from reducing the number of people employed in the legal sector, there could be new jobs for lawyers and new employers.

In accountancy it is estimated just 1% of tax jobs will be free from the risk of automation. Accountancy packages such as Xero, Cashflow and QuickBooks are easy to use and cloud based. New software is making inroads into the older established hard to use packages which are more specialist dependent.

Oxford University academics Michael Osborne and Carl Frey calculated how susceptible to automation each job is based on nine key skills required to perform it; The list includes social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, assisting and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger dexterity, manual dexterity and the need to work in a cramped work space.

The results in association with Deloitte were published on the BBC website. Sectors most at risk were banking, accountancy, tax and insurance. Sectors least at risk were Digital, Creative, Higher Education and (I am happy to say) economists.

Should we be too worried? As we mentioned last week, the technology debate was re-stirred in the 1930s, at the time of mass unemployment during the Great Depression. In “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, Keynes predicted on-going technological advance and workers being replaced by machines (Keynes (1930)). Fewer working hours and more leisure time the predicted outcome. We heard this later almost fifty years ago with the forecast demise of manufacturing and the huge job losses predicted as a result.

Will it be so bad? Projections over the net twenty years are difficult to accept and sustain. But every business should check out vulnerability to Digital Disruption. Stay with us on our journey as we examine the challenge of Digital Disruption in our Masters of Strategy series. Next week, we will look at “Empires in the Cloud” … the key players creating the dominant digital platforms for the years ahead.

This article was originally published on Which-50


John Ashcroft

I specialize in Economics, Strategy and Social Media with a focus on AI & digital disruption. I am Chief Executive of pro-Manchester and a Visiting Professor with a leading Manchester Business School.

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