Professional Practices – accountants, solicitors, engineers, consultants, architects – need to consider the impact of artificial intelligence because they have no choice. By 2020 multiple reports (Thomson Reuters, Deloitte to cite just two) indicate that its impact will be felt by every size of professional practice – and that means if you’re not embracing it, you are futilely fighting it and will feel the negative impact on your revenues.
Now we’re talking just two years away – are you getting ready?
Clients of professional practices are already demanding more efficient and cost-effective services and staff at professional practices want to spend more time on interesting, high-value activities. So, where there is change, there is always opportunity and some practices will thrive fantastically during this transition.
Let’s take a look at forecasted impact of this threat to professional practices and consider a few actions that every professional practice should start doing today to prepare.
Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Professional Practices
- Reduction of low-value, repetitive work. In an accountancy that might mean basic auditing, book-keeping, report creation, cash flow management, operational business planning etc will all be automated and be perceived as commodities (with greatly reduced fees being paid). In a solicitor’s office, the research/analysis/production/admin tasks will be more automated and clients won’t expect to pay much for these items For architects, preparing schedules, measuring and calculating, planning submissions, even evaluating performance characteristics such as safety are all open to automation – and with increasing automation, major portions of fees will disappear. The same is true for many engineers (e.g. automated development and analysis of calculation files for structural engineers), business consultants (automated business plan creation). Note that if the professional service you are selling falls mostly into these categories, expect major reduction in fees and business disruption as alternative solutions prevail – outsourcing to non-professionals, online delivery, fixed fee models etc). As a plus, the most boring work will no longer take up much time.
- Shift to Strategic, customised, people-facing services. Practices that will thrive in this world will be ones that can attract the more strategic, unique and people-facing activities. The work that requires deep skill, high-level thinking, personal engagement and customised solutions will be the work that will attract the highest fees and the best professionals. The work with the essential human dimension cannot be automated. For accountants, this is strategic financial and business advice; for solicitors this is complex advocacy, customised legal services, human rights issue;, for architects it is unique designs, insightful solutions to homes of the future, development of homes for the autistic/disabled/dementia-sufferers. It will also be the most satisfying work – for the practices that can get it.
- Higher quality of services for clients. Effective use of artificial intelligence in your practice will ensure that you deliver a higher-quality work for client on a faster timeline than ever before. Happier clients means more fees.
- Greater focus on people (soft) skills. While hard (technical) skills are the pre-requisite for being in the professional world, I return to a recurring theme of mine – the importance of soft skills to be successful in private practice. Skills such as communication, empathy, advanced problem-solving, sales, marketing. Without these skills in your practice, you will be lost in this brave new world.
What do professional practices need to do to prepare?
- Audit your practice. Review your own output and processes and start identifying which ones can be automated and replaced with technology.
- Audit your clients. Review current work with current clients and identify how much could be classified as “commodity work” and how much is strategic, people-facing, customised activity.
- Re-position/re-design. Start considering where you want to be positioned as AI impacts – a professional purveyor of low-value-high-volume (commodity) work with low fees or a purveyor of high-value (strategic/human) activity with high fees. There is need for both but you need to recognise which of your services and clients fit into which category and redesign services/pricing accordingly.
- Embrace new technologies and business models. This is essential. Your practice will suffer if you don’t embrace new ways of working, selling and marketing.
- Re-skill yourself and your staff – soft skills and technology skills are vital in all sizes of practices. This is do or die over the next few years.
Getting your practice ready for the future is all part of the Build Your Practice Coaching Programme that I run for professional practices that want to double their fees in the next 2/3 years. Check out my website for more details on the different programmes I run for small Professional Practices from €500 per month.