May 21, 2024

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Two-fifths of professional services work could be automated with AI

3 min read

Professional services work could see more than 40% of its labour automated with the use of generative AI, according to a new study. The work of management is the area most ripe for automation.

It has long been forecast that AI and automation will bring about a workforce re-alignment, the scale of which having not been seen since the industrial revolution. While dialogue usually centres on repetitive or physical work, however, the recent advent of generative AI has seen the conversation shift to areas of creative labour – which could either see their roles change or disappear altogether in the coming years.

One recent report from KPMG suggested the UK’s battered economy could get a much-needed £31 billion boost from the widespread adoption of generative AI, with the technology boasting the potential to increase UK productivity by 1.2% each year. Going into detail of how this might occur, the firm admitted that the retail, customer services, hospitality, construction, and manufacturing sectors would experience ‘minimal impact’ from the technology, while creative roles like authors, translators, graphic designers, along with IT support technicians and legal professionals, due to its text-based and visual nature would be due for major disruption.

Two-fifths of professional services work could be automated with AI

The professional services sector, and management consultancy in particular, is still regarded as ‘creative’ by many of its leaders, due to its reputation for problem solving. According to new research from Bain & Company, that also leaves the sector open to high levels of automation in the coming years.

In fact, of all the industries Bain considered, professional services work was prone to the highest portion of disruption. As much as 41% of labour time could be automated in the sector, ahead media and administrative services, both on 40%.

As with KPMG’s study, arts entertainment and recreation were also higher on the automation agenda, with 32% of labour up for replacement. Meanwhile, Bain suggested that less than 30% of labour in restaurants and retail could be automated. Again, this suggests that contrary to many a utopian vision of society, where technology frees humanity from physical labour to focus on creative pursuits, the reality AI delivers may end up being more of the reverse.

Two-fifths of professional services work could be automated with AI

Functional shifts

Consultants have been contending with these questions for some time, of course. While AI is already revolutionising the way consultants explore data, many industrial players are wary of removing too much of the human touch from their product – as it will then become more difficult to convince clients to commodify their work.

But the sector is already working to use technology to phase out certain kinds of work, while adapting to an economy where there is a war for talent. By automating low-level functions, such as administration, for instance firms are able to decrease their need for graduates and trainees, who would usually take on that workload.  currently assigned that low-level workload.

Interestingly, however, Bain also finds that there is more potential to automate workload higher up a company. In line with a recent McKinsey & Company report, which found an 80% majority of business leaders already use generative AI to meet their workload, Bain found that 40% of management finance and operations labour could be automated – the highest of any segment of a company. Whether the ‘labourers’ in those highly-automatable roles would be treated in the same way as staff in lower-ranking roles (reallocation, retraining or redundancies) remains to be seen, though.

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