Lifelong learning is essential

When I joined BT 15 years ago, we had lots of clerical and secretarial support, but now we have very little. We can all type quickly, and email and the intranet save a great deal of time. Most managers will ultimately be unnecessary too, and accountants will be among those affected.

The internet notionally allows us to fragment an institution into its component parts and reassemble it using the newest tools. The tools available now, and in the near future, will allow us to automate a large proportion of tasks, streamline authorisation lines and disintermediate the management infrastructure of a company. Some companies won’t be needed at all, since this fragmentation and re-assembly will occur at an industry-wide level, not just within a company.

Restructuring could be profound. For organisations that aren’t making physical objects, the changes will be even larger. Virtual companies will keep key staff with top level skills, others will be bought in on a project.

We need ideas creators, assimilators to package ideas into products and, when people still don’t buy them, we need expert marketers.

The elite will thrive in such an environment, often working for several companies at a time with high rewards. But the bulk of people will be commodities, with a global supplier base. There will be enough work to ensure that most people are employed, but work will be volatile.

For accountants, it will mean constant re-skilling and lifelong learning to keep up with the next generation of electronic tools.

Advanced artificial intelligence tools will mean that juniors will be able to do work that may have been too difficult previously. While some may look at this as de-skilling jobs, it is equally validly up-skilling the person. A junior clerk may be capable of a middle management role.

An individual accountant will be able to produce work that may have taken an entire team.

Putting together a virtual co-operative will be possible. A group of freelancers could be brought together,on-line, to fill a market niche. The freelancers will keep the profits, with few overheads and no shareholders to pay. But the freelancers won’t be administering anything any more, they’ll be using whatever other skills they have, amplified by artificial intelligence.

  • Ian Pearson is a futurologist with BtexaCT

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