Knowledge Transfer Manager, Astrid Ayel, discusses the service sector and how technology could play a key role in the future.
Accountancy, law, insurance… these professions usually conjure images of spreadsheets, glass and steel offices, jargon-filled sentences, square eyes and grey suits. Perhaps this is part of the reason why we willingly pay high fees for such services: passing the burden to highly intelligent individuals who will perform those laborious tasks for us. But all this might be about to change.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions are already better at performing many tasks than the professionals: beating human lawyers in reviewing contracts and predicting the outcomes of legal cases. But it is not about replacing lawyers, accountants and insurance managers with machines. Instead, it is about building data solutions that enrich their practice: automating repetitive tasks to free up time for strategic thinking and managing the client relationship; lowering costs to offer services to a wider audience, including legal help for those who most need it; improving detection of insurance fraud to lower premiums for all; accessing and using data to deliver a better more personalised service. The potential for AI in professional services is clearly considerable: for those who use and depend upon them, and those working in these industries.
Furthermore, the UK is in the perfect position to make it happen. With its world-leading centres of AI research, it has been described as first in the world for ‘AI readiness’. It also has a justifiably renowned heritage in providing professional services, with the biggest legal and insurance sectors in Europe, and ranked as the leading exporter of financial and related professional services across the world in 2017.
Those working in the industry must play a central role in the development of these new technologies for them to succeed. They are the knowledge domain experts who are indispensable in designing the machines of the future: framing the challenges, producing data requirements, identifying potential risks and articulating the social and ethical issues. As Professor Richard Susskind, author of the Future of the Professions says: “Professionals should become directly involved in the development of the systems that handle and deliver practical expertise.” A collaborative approach between professionals, academic researchers and technologists across the professional services industry will ensure that the solutions are best in class from a technical, user and social perspective.
It is such an approach that is being encouraged by the forthcoming £20m Next Generation Services Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The challenge is set to support the development of data and AI solutions in the sectors of accountancy, legal and insurance services. It includes an initial CR&D call of up to £12m and an initial Research Programme call of up to £3m. Details of the forthcoming competitions can now be viewed on our funding pages: there are separate competitions for small projects and for large consortia.