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Fri 21 Dec 2018 01:20 AM

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Opinion: Reimagining consulting in the automation era

The industry has long been a magnet for top graduates seeking intellectual challenge

Opinion: Reimagining consulting in the automation era
For the consulting industry, automation is freeing up millions of man-hours that can be skillfully redeployed to more creative, interpersonal areas of our business where robotics are inferior to people.

The idea of automation is dominating today’s business headlines, as forecasts predict mass job losses in once-safe professional services arenas like accounting, law and consulting. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are advancing quickly, thanks to innovations in neural networks and deep learning, and the availability of vast data sets in the digital era, that tasks once thought too difficult to automate are becoming fair game for engineers to go after. The consulting and professional services industry has been watching these technologies closely, and the leaders are already rolling automation out across their business at pace.

The hype around automation is justified. These can surpass humans in speed, output and accuracy, whether diagnosing cancer or assembling legal documents and identifying discrepancies. Yet this does not simply mean jobs like radiologists and lawyers will disappear, but they will change and evolve.

For the consulting industry, automation is freeing up millions of man-hours that can be skillfully redeployed to more creative, interpersonal areas of our business where robotics are inferior to people. We see intelligent automation taking on repeatable tasks as our consultants become more focused on value-adding services, helping clients forecast and interpret the future of their business.

Automation and technology is also increasing our demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), given the importance of technology and digital transformation for our clients across sectors – and for us. STEM knowledge provides the insights and tools to help our clients adapt to contemporary innovation trends, when an edge in software, code or analytics can confer huge advantages for those with the right ideas. We are hiring heavily in this area, with around 55 percent of our 2019 Advisory graduate cohort having STEM degrees.

We feel confident that smart graduates have a very bright future in consulting despite the doomsday predictions of automation

As part of my role, I meet and review graduate candidates joining our firm in the Middle East and North Africa region, so I think regularly about how our workforce needs are changing, and how graduates are adapting to today’s technological realities. To be a sustainable business, we of course need revenue growth to outpace full time employee growth, and have to think carefully about head count and opportunities to streamline our business using automation technology. But as more of our work is done by rule-based analytics, we are actually reallocating our people as we strike a balance between automatable tasks and out-of-the-box thinking, the latter of which is crucial to many parts of innovative management consulting.

Creativity is essential

The consulting industry has long been a magnet for top graduates excited by the intellectual challenge of the work and the career progression afforded them. But those yet to enter the industry should not worry about the doors to new entrants closing. They will, however, need strong creativity and innovation skills to prosper.

For one thing, we increasingly delink job titles to graduate degrees. Even two or three years ago, computer science graduates would naturally work in technology, with economic and finance graduates in financial advisory and audit. Today, we prefer a hybrid approach that is less rigid and spots opportunities for mobility through the organisation. We also find graduates themselves understand and appreciate these new realities. They are not looking for rigid job titles or routine work, and do not even want to be tagged to a specific domain or competency. Today’s younger cohort is open to working without a job description, and to new methods of performance assessment.

We feel confident that smart graduates have a very bright future in consulting despite the doomsday predictions of automation.


Wasim Khan, MENA Advisory Leader, EY

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