PA Consulting: Robots are coming, are we really ready?

13 January 2016

The second machine age may already be distorting the modern human economy as AI and robotics start to compete more effectively with human labour, research by PA Consulting Group highlights. AI is now able to perform a number of tasks better than humans, and with lacklustre job growth in the US, those capabilities may already be having a disruptive effect. According to the firm, serious questions about the role of humanity and a vision for the future need to be considered and discussed.

The industrial revolution was transformative of both labour requirements, as well as levels of productivity. One major change related to high-skilled jobs, such as artisans work, losing out to high efficiency methods, but often lower quality (aesthetic or otherwise) products. Another change was that lower-skilled production workers moved from the countryside to the cities to find factory work that replaced their traditional jobs. As a consequence, the revolution created a high degree of economic inequality, as productivity required considerably fewer workers, resulting in mass unemployment and poor wages.

Whereas in the longer term – once legislation came in to protect workers and new jobs were created – industrialisation resulted in more jobs and more prosperity, the initial revolution created considerable disparity. Today, another industrial scale revolution might already be underway as computers and AI (artificial intelligence) systems and technologies become more and more efficient, competing for human positions. In manufacturing for instance, 25% of jobs in four primary sectors are projected to be replaced by robotic workers, while Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has already started to replace human beings, and is projected to do away with a large number of manual back-office functions in the years ahead. 

AI high level capabilities

In a recent report, titled ‘The Robots are Coming! Are you ready?’, PA Consulting considers the development of the machine age and the existential and economic threats that come with its rapid destruction of traditional jobs that many people actually enjoy doing.

Robotic masters
One of the coming changes is the development of AI, which has in recent years become considerably better at traditionally human capabilities. Image recognition is now on par with most humans, even while the number of images recognised can far outstrip human capabilities. Voice recognition and text analysis however, remain lower than human capability. In terms of ‘thinking’, AI has a stronger memory (although only particular types), and similar structured reasoning capabilities. Unstructured reasoning remains below par. Creating new ideas also remains below human capabilities, and is in many ways also fundamentally different. Communication and other modes of interacting are either similar in capability of far outstrip human capabilities, when, for instance, communication with other machines is involved.

Robotic masters

New industries
The combination of a number of AI capabilities means that these machines are capable of taking over a large number of tasks, and questions arise about the effects of it creating new economic dynamics and incentives. Capital owners for instance, driven by the demand for profit, are likely to choose for automation over human needs – even if the end result is a shrinking pool of moving consumer power as now poorly paid employees have less to spend.

According to PA Consulting, automation may already be affecting the employment market. Between 2000 and 2010 there was, for first since the end of the Great Depression, a net loss in jobs in the US. This is despite the fact that per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is one-third higher than it was 20 years ago, and the country produces 75% more goods than it did at that time. Okun’s Law – an accepted rule of thumb describing the relationship between productivity and employment – is being violated by the changes, given that as the economy grows rapidly, unemployment should decline, often by 1% for every 3% increase in GDP. According to this formula, the US should have almost full employment by now.

Impact of automation on employment by industry

Human relevancy
Staying relevant in the machine age – not merely at the level of being paid and kept out of social welfare – may mean acquiring very specialised and high levels of skill, or becoming artistic. PA Consulting highlights that human beings need to find a niece where their performance is still better than that of machines. Alongside creativity, these include areas requiring leadership, motivation, intuition, empathy, abstract reasoning and lateral thinking; they also include the skills associated with craft.

There might be some irony in the conclusion that, what the first industrial revolution destroyed – the life of the artisan whose value lay in creating unique items through craft – may be one of the last remaining bastions of human productive endeavour.

More news on


First Consulting helps BDO to build new RPA capability with UiPath

22 March 2019

Global accounting and consulting firm BDO is working on its own digital transformation, as it looks to pioneer the use of Robotic Process Automation in its work. Business consultancy First Consulting is helping BDO with designing the RPA journey and building its internal RPA capability.

Robotic Process Automation describes a process that utilises software programmed to autonomously carry out basic tasks across applications, reducing the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on employees.  Able to be developed and deployed in a matter of weeks, RPA is highly cost-effective and can typically demonstrate returns on investment within a few months. It has been known to dramatically improve the speed and accuracy of processing, resulting in a quicker and higher quality of service to customers.

Last year, BDO explored the value of Robotic Process Automation, concluding the technology has the capacity to bolster the firm’s service offerings as well as internal operations. On the back of this analysis, the professional services firm incorporated RPA into its ICT strategy for the coming years. This has already seen the first robot delivered at BDO, which has since been taken into use by the business.

First Consulting helps BDO to build new RPA capability with UiPath

First Consulting is advising BDO on all aspects of deploying and scaling up the technology across the organisation – from capability building, governance structure and processes to architecture and IT infrastructure. The joint team of BDO and First Consulting have, meanwhile, also taken the first steps to set up an internal RPA capability.

BDO faces a key year for its operations, particularly in the UK where it has recently become the fifth largest provider of audit and advisory services in the country. As the firm looks to further grow its junior auditing market lead over the Big Four, the effective deployment of innovations such as RPA could prove key in the coming period.

With RPA on board, BDO’s ICT department aims at increasing the satisfaction of employees by removing a range of often boring (repetitive, administrative) tasks. By automating such tasks, productivity can also be increased at the professional services firm, as its staff will be freed up to spend more time performing value-adding activities. On top of this, RPA can execute tasks and processes with a lower margin of error compared to humans, enhancing BDO’s internal operations.

Working with RPA vendor UiPath, during the project at BDO, First Consulting has sought to apply its best practice RPA growth model methodology. The approach differentiates between three different growth phases, starting with RPA, structuring RPA, and scaling RPA.

Project results are delivered through an agile approach. According to the engagement partners, the following results were achieved in a period of six weeks:

  • Developed a first robot process that directly creates value for the business and contributes to the 360 degree customer view by migrating information from two systems to another system;
  • Advice and implementation plan on the technical design in relation to RPA, ICT guidelines, a security questionnaire and a basic infrastructure;
  • A roadmap for setting up an internal RPA capability, including the following components: processes & governance, change management and capability building & training;
  • Plan for setting up benefits tracking / monitoring as well as reusability of robot process components.

So far, First Consulting and BDO have enjoyed a pleasant and productive cooperation, achieving “tangible results” along the way. According to First Consulting’s team engaged by the project, the close match between the firms’ norms and values proved a key success factor. In the coming period, First Consulting and BDO are investigating opportunities to develop a digital capability in other areas of BDO’s business.

Roel van Overdam, Head of RPA at First Consulting, said of the collaboration, “Our pragmatic, no-nonsense approach has clearly paid off.”

Related: First Consulting: Is RPA implementation going in the right direction?