Will robotics mean more consulting?
Tuesday 12th Sep, 2017
By Fiona Czerniawska.
There are two ways to answer this question.
In the first place, it’s highly likely that the current surge of interest in robotic process automation will generate demand for consulting support–indeed, most firms are already seeing this. Eighty-one percent of clients say they’ll need consulting support in this area, far higher than for more conventional consulting services. And the reasons are obvious: this is a new field, packed to the gills with different technology options. Coming up with a sensible strategy will depend on being able to tap into the world’s small number of genuine experts, most of whom have already been snapped up by prescient consulting firms.
But all this starts to look like small beer if we take a step back.
Each jump in the size of the consulting market has been accompanied by a significant change in the way organisations think about themselves. The 1980s weren’t just the era of shoulder pads and Amstrad computers, but a time in which organisations were starting to focus on their core business, shedding peripheral functions they’d accrued since the end of the Second World War. A maker of widgets didn’t need a real estate department to help with employee housing, any more than a bank needed to run all its legacy systems. And the 1990’s enthusiasm for large-scale, long-term outsourcing deals whittled down the core business even further. Each of those waves of organisational restructuring fuelled significant growth in the consulting industry, not just around the advice required to implement such changes, but also from the extent to which consultants took on work clients had done for themselves. Those real estate departments morphed into today’s real estate advisory practices, while the outsourcing deals took consulting firms into the managed services space. With every contraction in the client footprint, consultants have expanded.
Robotics promises another, new wave of restructuring. New technology will replace some jobs, but create others–but not necessarily ones for which clients have the right skills. Someone needs to design the algorithms that tells the bots what to do. Unlike people, bots can’t change, so people will be needed to continually redesign them; unless we want rioting in the corporate corridors, someone is going to need to manage the thousands of bots companies say they’re developing. So once again, there’s an opportunity for consultants to move in, absorbing work that clients don’t want to, or can’t do.
Yes: a lot of this work is connected to the use of robots, but it’s not the technology that will create the biggest opportunity for consulting, but the re-drawing of the line that separates consultants from their clients.