To boldly go – five key trends that will revolutionise the way you work

Nathan Holden, Freeths, Nottingham

Much has been written recently about the London Borough of Enfield’s decision to use, as the London Evening Standard put it, a ‘robotic supercomputer’ instead of humans to deliver frontline services. These services are delivered by ‘Amelia’ an avatar that answers questions online or on the phone. In the words of its developers IPSoft, she answers ‘as a human would’. This is not your usual sort of automatic answering service or website steering callers and users towards either human or web-based information. The critical difference is that these systems actually digest all the available information and create their own answers to questions in plain English.

This is the first time this software has been used in the public sector in the UK and it has been suggested that Amelia is capable of generating savings of over 60 per cent over human equivalents. One of Amelia’s key features is the ability to learn; if Amelia cannot answer a question it is referred to a human operator and in the process Amelia learns from the exchange. As the Evening Standard article points out, Enfield’s director of finance, resource and customer services, said there were ‘no plans’ to sack any of its 50 call centre workers,’ but he gave no guarantees.

Closer to home for in-house lawyers, the substitution of artificial intelligence systems for call centre staff may seem a remote concern and arguably continues a trend begun with deindustrialisation as jobs were replaced by technology in manufacturing. That process is now being repeated in the factories of the service economy, call centres and warehouses but it potentially goes beyond that and represents a threat to professions, and at the very least will radically alter the way that professional services are delivered and by whom, or what, in the future.

Artificial intelligence is just one small part of the changes that will affect the workplace for in-house lawyers in the future. According to Tom Cheesewright, applied futurist, there are five key trends that will shape our working lives, not over the next twenty years but, with the speed of technological advance, in as short a timeframe as the next ten years.

The ubiquity of technology

Over the next ten years, computers will start to disappear into the fabric of our environment. Everything around us will be increasingly connected as the price of computing power gets so low that even the tiniest piece of utility justifies its application. More and more roles that it made sense for a human to undertake will become practical for machines.

Expectations of performance

When everything is digital, performance becomes easier to measure and expectations of that performance rise. Because Amazon can deliver in a couple of hours, we expect everyone else to do the same. Evidence suggests our expectations are portable: what we get at home, we will want in the workplace.

Borders fall, scale changes

Despite Brexit, borders are falling all around the world: where once it took years and cost millions to bring a brand to a new country, it can now be done in weeks for much less. Organisations are interacting with lower friction than ever before, changing the nature of what it means to be large or integrated.

Diversity grows

Inspired by the constant clash of ideas online and empowered by ubiquitous access to information and technology, we are innovating at rates unseen before. This means there is simply more: more choice; more channels of communication and more ways of doing things. Navigating this morass is the challenge.

Agility is the imperative

With accelerated innovation, the onus changes from optimisation to adaptation. No longer can we spend ten years doing what we do just that little bit better. Now we have to be ready to change it altogether to fit the emerging new world.

Tom Cheesewright will be speaking at the forthcoming EM LawShare conference (free to EM LawShare local authority members) on 14 October 2016 at Loughborough University. If you want to hear more from Tom, email alanna.redfern@geldards.com to book your place at the conference.

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