By Simon Chadwick, Managing Partner
The campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have both focused on the role of offshoring manufacturing to explain the loss of factory jobs and increased economic pressures on the middle class – a message that has resonated. Neither they nor the Clinton campaign, however, have really focused on the real bogey man – automation. For example, the automotive industry is experiencing the best of times, yet with far fewer workers than they employed pre-recession. Why? Those jobs have been automated.
For a long time, the white-collar middle class thought “it can’t happen to me.” Well it can and it is. Just last month, a large NY bankruptcy law firm laid off 50 lawyers because IBM’s Watson is now taking over their jobs. And, yes, it’s happening in research too. Whether we are talking about the automation of downstream DP and IT jobs, the rise of the DIY platforms or the arrival of MR app stores, automation is very much among us and here to stay.
The big question is whether it will kill us or make us stronger.
There is no doubt that, for some, this is a death knell. If you work in DP or Project Management, your prospects of future employment are dim. If you are a vanilla, undifferentiated research agency still basing your business model on data collection, your prospects of existing five years from now are nil to zero. But there are very substantial silver linings, too.
For example, there is every reason to believe that the DIY platforms will expand the market, bringing small and medium-sized enterprises into the fold for the first time. As they and their sophistication grows, so will their need for specialist and expert input. If you are a differentiated MR agency bringing real value to your clients, you will now be able to divert resource from non-value add functions to hiring more consultants, more graphics specialists, more data scientists, more synthesists and more story tellers. You can increase the value that you bring.
In essence, the effect that automation will have on you as a purveyor of research is very much down to you. It depends on where you want to take your business and what your value proposition is. Get it right and these could be the best of times.