“The Alternative Tech & Innovation Leaders’ Summit: Professional Services” passes the Ronseal test.  As we head to day two of what has been an excellent event, I can confirm that I have heard a great deal about tech and innovation in professional services.  I have been fortunate to hear from, meet and chat with some very able folks all grappling in their various ways with the change that surrounds professional services. I have heard about EY’s strategy of 1000 flowers, I’ve listened to the descriptions of innovation as analysed by the Susskind’s – type 1 re-engineering the existing and type 2 re-invention of the professions.  I’ve heard suggestions from Alex Smith of iManage RAVN that we need to be “bringing back boring”.  Itself simply a well-judged way to talk about the importance of the fundamentals as opposed to “shiny baubles”.  Thought provoking stuff!

When you take a couple of days out to attend an event like this – and to properly attend, not to slope out early on day two, it’s a real investment of time and perhaps more importantly – attention!  It has created a small slither of space for me to reflect on our business and where we are with our own project to build a purpose-led professional services business based on a clear mission, values and fundamental beliefs.  It has been a very valuable chance to orientate – to work out where we are and where we were and where we should continue to direct ourselves. Finding reference points has a useful “anchoring effect”. When change is all around and you’re trying to lead it (in a small way) and execute it there is a risk that you lose perspective.  So I have been using this opportunity to try to gain perspective.  As I have sat listening to some fascinating insights and experiences, I have found myself grabbing my good old-fashioned analogue device (my notebook) as various disparate dots of thoughts and ideas, problems and challenges have connected themselves.

Connecting the dots and the recognition of the ecosystems in which we operate – perhaps the ecosystem given the, at times, invisible threads that connect us all – is really what I enjoy the most.  So the attempt to try to do some more of it was behind my decision to give my attention at this event.

Inevitably, some questions have been answered.  Yet as one might expect at a thought-leading event many more questions have been raised.  A chunky question has started to shape in my mind – who are the architects of change?

Does change come from very large and long established professional services firms with eye-watering budgets?  I mean if we are looking for folks with the means and the resources to invest in and lead change the big boys appear to have pole positions.  Of course, we all know that size isn’t everything.  So are the designers of the new in small agile vehicles having to do much more with much less?   Can these small business, often tech-enabled and frequently sub-scale and underfunded break through?

Culturally can the “way its always been” gang really shake off the inertia that seeks to stop them being turkeys voting for Christmas?  How can we align the interests of the people who got us here and who are not now the people who will get us there – to the future?

Change is a profound experience and the professions are clearly experiencing a good deal of it.  When we look in we think we are experiencing unprecedented levels of change, yet I have a sneaky feeling that our clients may still think we are somewhat removed from the real world.

So, in thinking about my response to my own question I think we will find some very new entrants literally coming to revolutionise the professional services market.  Whatever we may all think or even secretly want we may find that a tech company becomes the largest professional services firm within a decade. We may find that clarion calls to wake up do get the slumbering giants to really rub their eyes and stretch their limbs before jumping into action.  We may find new entrants that shake off their sub scale shackles and avoid the tempting acquisition by the bigger players to keep ploughing their different furrow.

But, I really do dislike sitting on the fence and giving “maybe this and maybe that” responses.  I like answers, even if they are wrong – at least they generate action and reaction rather than more analysis.  The architects of change will be the leaders.  Leaders will emerge from within and outside the profession.  From large established players and new entrants.  However, the real leaders of change will be our clients. They have the least interest in the status quo and ultimately in service business we exist to serve our clients – or else!

So in my view the most significant change will be designed and led by clients. And, in the ecosystem we cohabit with them, we will find a blurring of the lines as to who is the provider and who is the client.  The one thing that won’t change – ever in my view – is the paramount role of the human.  The people who apply skill, knowledge, judgement, compassion, humanity and the ties that bind will always outfox AI and be the first choice of other humans. So watch out robots the humans are coming!