Is my profession at risk of Digital Disruption?

Digital Disruption. What is it and will it affect your profession? It is a buzz word heard in relation to many areas of business, but what does it really mean? Do you need to worry about it as a planner, engineer, architect or other environmental professional?

What is it?

It is the flip side of Digital Opportunity. It is the impact on your job, your industry or even your whole sector resulting from others introducing new technology which is truly game changing.

Think Uber from the perspective of the taxi industry. Or, Air BnB for the accommodation industry or Netflix for both cinema chains and television broadcasters. The entire market for these industries has been up-ended.

Will it affect me?

TVNZ broadcast the What Next series earlier this year. It was an interactive, week-long series to discuss what New Zealand could be like in 20 years time. 80% of people considered that their job would still exist in 2037 and 75% of people considered a robot could not do their job.  This was clearly at odds with the level of disruption which is expected to occur in the economy – with the hosts reporting nearly half of jobs would be affected within the next 20 years. Every consumer loves the enhanced products and cost effective services which result from businesses taking up digital opportunity, but most workers simply do not consider their job or industry will be directly affected by digital disruption.

Will it really impact on professional service industries?

Technology has disrupted many sectors, e.g. manufacturing, logistics and retail.  Many consider professional services to be immune, and that only sectors which deal with products or basic services are vulnerable.

Professional services are currently operating in an unchanged business model. Charging by the simple formula of “overheads + profit margin =  hourly rate”.  Currently professionals are like the artisan worker of old about to go head to head with new assembly line production.

Since software for spreadsheets was invented decades ago, numbers of accountants only grew. However now comprehensive software such as Xero will automate much of the work, affecting many jobs in the accountancy sector. It is easy to think that those professions who deal in numbers are more at risk than those that deal with words.

Yet lawyers are also being affected as reported in this recent article.  AI can create lengthy contract documents and also mine documents for information to be used as evidence. These tasks used to take professionals dozens of hours per case. A Deloitte report predicts 40% of jobs in the legal sector will be automated in the future.

Disruption will come to all professions to some degree – primarily because consumers see the benefits in one sector and then demand the same benefits from all spheres of life. If a professional service does not re-invent itself, others will exploit the opportunity to do so. Software developers who introduce powerful automation into certain professions can then move on to adapt the tool for other professions. Particularly where that profession is not offering what its clients need and expect in a digital world.

What can you do?

  1. Be aware of digital disruption. Look at the impact it has on other parts of your life.
  2. Future proof your skill sets so you can adapt. Focus on learning skills so you can make full use of the automation offered by technology. Then you have the time to develop the “human” side of your professional work which cannot be done by technology.
  3. Discuss with your professional colleagues and professional bodies so that the disruption can be lead from within your profession rather than from outside it.


Here at RMA Digital we want to help you adapt to the digital age. Find out more about us here.

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