Welcoming the arrival of robots

James Riley
Editorial Director

Far from being the harbingers of doom for professional services, the pending arrival of machine learning and artificial intelligence-based automation tools will open up new opportunities for the sector, according to PwC partner Cameron Whittfield.

There is widespread acknowledgement that professional services are heading into rough weather as smart, automation systems start replacing humans in the professional services world.

The forecasts suggest a gale of disruptive winds to blow through the sector.

Cameron Whittfield: There are reasons for optimism about automation technology in professional services

But Mr Whittfield, who heads PwC Australia’s digital and technology law practice, is far more optimistic. He does not subscribe to the prevailing doom-laden view of automation, and instead says the new technology will open up huge new opportunities for professional services firms.

“People who look at automation or machine learning and say ‘this is the end of professional services’ are failing to see that many new markets will open up through technology as well,” Mr Whittfield said.

“There may well be some impact on certain job types as automation and technology impacts on old ways of working,” he said. “But the bottom line is that technology can materially increase productivity and open up a massive raft of new ways of working and new opportunities.”

Speaking at an InnovationAus.com and PwC Cyber Leaders roundtable in Melbourne recently, Mr Whittfield said the narrative about the negative impact of new technology was causing an unfortunate level of angst among university students preparing to enter the sector.

Mr Whittfield, who also teaches a New Technology Law course at the Melbourne Law School, said despite the seeming uncertainty, he advised students that there were good opportunities in the sector – both because of, and in spite of, disruptive automation technologies.

“People look at current graduates and say ‘it’s such a challenging market for them’. And it is true that some of the jobs that I did when I was starting out won’t be available to them,” he said.

“But, quite frankly, there are jobs that we should all be glad are being automated.”

“I can tell you that the jobs that will be available to some of these graduates will be richer and more diverse and across a far broader market than in the past. I would argue that this is a great time to be studying and joining the workforce.”

For professional services firms, the arrival of disruptive automation technology has two main components.

The first is in using automation technology to make the delivery of professional services more efficient and more productive. The opportunity is huge.

The second component relates to clients. There is simply a lot of work to be done in the next five to ten years in helping businesses with their own transformation projects, “helping people unlock new business opportunities and to manage disruption”.

According to Adrian Turner, the chief executive of the CSIRO data business unit Data61, the jobs of the future will leverage data.

“What we are seeing is value moving from physical assets to digital and data based assets, and the combination of these. As every business and sector becomes more data-driven it means we need to focus on skills around understanding, managing and gaining insights around data. From an industry perspective, it is important that the focus is on skills rather than jobs. The jobs will change – and it will take new skills in the workforce to build new job-creating industries,” Mr Turner said.

“From a cyber security leadership perspective, our schools, universities and training apparatus must include exposure to a broad spectrum dose of broader skills that leverage data including business, communications and even psychology into traditional STEM curriculum.”

InnovationAus.com and PwC were presentation partners for the Cyber Security: The Leadership Imperative forum held in Melbourne in late October.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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