Next Gen PSF - Blog/News

New paper on  'How Professional Actions Connect and Protect' published

Posted by Tim Vorley, 27th July 2021

This week saw a new paper titled 'How Professional Actions Connect and Protect' published in the Journal of Professions and Organization.  The paper, authored by James Faulconbridge,  responds to the ongoing debate sparked by Mirko Noordegraaf’s intervention in suggesting that we are moving toward forms of ‘connective professionalism’. Critics in this debate have objected to Noordegraaf in a number of ways. Some object to a conflation of ideal types and empirical description. Others assert that Noordegraaf suggests a staged process of moving from protective to connective types of professionalism does not ring true; that we can finds forms of connection and protection in contemporary professionalism and in professional action. You can access the paper here.

New report on AI in Advanced Business Services

Posted by Tim Vorley, July 2021

This week Michiel van Meeteren and Tim Vorley participated in the Next Generation Services Global Scoping Workshop hosted by UKRI. At the workshop the team discussed their latest report exploring the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across the the Advanced Business Services (ABS) sector co-authored with Francisco Trincado-Munoz and Tzameret H. Rubin. Over the past several years the ABS has seen the acceleration of AI, and its rapid evolution have arguably driven a digital transformation in businesses, with start-ups being powerful contributors force to such change. The report presentsan overview of the role of AI in digitally transforming the ABS, before examining transforming the insurance, legal and accountancy subsectors in more detail.   

In examining Artificial Intelligence in Advanced Business Services the report concludes that the diffusion of AI and related technologies indicate that they are becoming increasingly important to the future competitiveness and productivity of the sector. There is clear evidence of presence and proliferation of AI and related technologies, which we show through our analysis of industry technology spaces. The findings demonstrate that although companies can be separated by subsector, there is overlap between the integration of AI with insurance, accountancy and legal services. Currently AI related technologies are more deeply embedded and integrated in the domain of LegalTech, and comparatively less so in InsurTech and AccountTech. This suggest that the needs of different subsectors/technology spaces need different support in advancing the diffusion and adoption.  You can download the full version of the report here.

 The Power of AI for accountants

Posted by Sally Godson, July 2021

AI is not the future, it is happening now, and it can significantly improve the quality of business and investment decisions. At the ICAEW webinar held on July 1st 2021 the speakers explored the opportunities and the limitations that AI brings, the practicalities and how and where investment in AI could benefit accountants and auditors. The panel will unpick key phrases, explain them in practical terms and delve into how people are utilising AI today by sharing real case studies.  You view the presentation from the project below or watch the complete panel discussion  here.

The Panel

Kirstin Gillon, Technical Manager for ICAEW joins the panel to discuss ICAEW’s ABCDE strategy and the Institute’s vision for digital progression in the finance sector.

Becky Shields, Head of the Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence team at Moore Kingston Smith, shares her experiences of rolling out AI software within her practice and will discuss the development and implementation of applications that are sector specific.

Tim Vorley, Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of Oxford Brookes Business School shares his experience working with small and medium practices using design thinking and scenario planning to negotiate uncertainty around the use of AI in working practices.

AI in Real Estate and Advertising

Posted by Tim Vorley, June 2021

A new report by the project team highlights how Next Generation Services have come to be characterised by the opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing and analytics. This amounts to a digital transition that is tantamount to that of a general-purpose technology (GPT). Understanding the relationship between specific technologies and the business models of Professional Services Firms (PSFs) is critical to their evolution and future competitiveness.  This research has significant implications for policy and practice by providing a near real time portrait of these fast moving technologies in two Next Generation Services sectors, namely Real Estate and Advertising. 

The report focuses on relatedness between knowledge space and companies. Through an iterative analysis of these two levels, we provide insights on specific clustered knowledge sets that are potentially be transferable between industries. Using knowledge spaces allows the processes of technological specialization/diversification of places and regions to be mapped to identify technological strengths and identify complementary knowledge spaces. By adding investors data, the research offers offer insights about gap between the local knowledge sets and the investment knowledge space. The findings reveal promising relations between technology and services within each industry. While Internet, IT and Online Portals are core technologies for the Real Estate industry, Internet Services, and in particular E-commerce and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), are for the Advertising industry. Access the full report here.

 New website for AI Readiness

Posted by Sally Godson, May 2021

The NextGenPSF project has focused on understanding and addressing the challenges facing mid-sized professional services firms in law and accountancy as the seek to adopting and implementing AI technologies. This site presents the final version of the free to access AI Readiness Toolkit created for professional services firms. The toolkit has been designed to addressing the needs of mid-size accounting and law firms looking to become AI ready in order to deliver higher value client-focused professional services. The AI Readiness Toolkit uses a 'design thinking' informed approach to identify and develop strategies for evaluating, adopting and implementing AI. You can access the new dedicated website here.

The Next Generation Services through Collaborative Design project team has developed a bespoke methodology to give professional services firms actionable insights for use in their organisations. Drawing on research insights the AI Readiness Toolkit uses design thinking and scenario planning to enable users to explore and negotiate uncertainty around the use of AI in working practices. The AI Readiness Toolkit accompanies the design sprints and scenarios that are facilitated by the core project team on a one-to-one and one-to-many basis! The book is available in hardback and softback (email

 New paper on the Adoption of Innovation in the Classic Professions

Posted by Tim Vorley, April 2021

This week saw our latest paper titled 'An Institutional Taxonomy of Adoption of Innovation in the Classic Professions' accepted for publication in Technovation.  The paper, co-authored by Carlo Cordasco, Cristian Gherhes, Chay Brookes,and Tim Vorley, explores the process of adoption and diffusion of technical innovation in the professions. In this paper we suggest that the relevance and peculiarity of institutional dynamics at play in the professional sectors warrant a specific focus aimed at laying out how they affect adoption and diffusion of technical innovation. In particular, we highlight that cultural-cognitive and normative pillars, embedded in the classic or regulated professions, may significantly insulate professionals from efficient choice lenses and act as either drivers or barriers of adoption of technical innovations depending on the nature of the technology in question. We hypothesise that institutional mechanisms serve as drivers for the adoption of trajectorial innovations (i.e. technologies that improve existing sets of practices and routines), and as barriers for paradigmatic innovations (i.e. technologies that substantively alter existing practices and/or strip away certain tasks from the hands of professionals).  Finally, we illustrate the role that social norms play as transmission mechanism of cultural-cognitive and normative pressures. You can access the paper here.

NextGenPSF Final Flagship Conference

Posted by Tim Vorley, March 2021

On 17th March 2021 the NextGenPSF project held its final Flagship Conference associated with the core project to share and disseminate insights from the project. The event brought together leading practitioners and professionals from across legal and accounting firms and other stakeholders engaged with the professions. The event centred on the value of design sprints (derived from design thinking) as a very useful and practical way to re-think and resolve business challenges.   A  central aim of out multi-disciplinary research project funded under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund was to discover the extent that innovation and AI readiness could be unlocked using design thinking, in particular design sprints. 

The event was hosted by Richard Chaplin, Founder & Chief Executive Managing Partners' Forum and Co-Investigator of NextGenPSF, and showcased the outputs of the project. The research 'deep dives' have provided insight into the sector, and working with firms the project team has co-created a series of design sprints and futures workshops to support professional services firms on the journey to enable firms to explore current and future business challenges in a very practical way.  The journey combines business model innovation, futures and scenarios, story boards and model-making, with an innovation roadmap as the primary output. Hence Fast-track Innovation™ is the Conference and Campaign theme.

You can review all of the NextGenPSF Flagship Conference sessions on our dedicated webpage.

The virtual event was held using REMO at the Managing Partnters' Forum online event and conferencing space

Next  Generation Services White Paper

Posted by Tim Vorley, March 2021

Reflecting on the past year, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the completion of the UK’s departure from the European Union, it seems that everybody has done the most extraordinary things to keep themselves and their businesses going. This has not been without its difficulties, to say the least, but it has also built confidence within the leadership of professional services firms concerning their ability to realise the potential benefits of change. It has, perhaps, also made them more aware of the enormous challenges to come in the next few years. 

The primary purpose of this study, funded by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), was to understand and enhance the AI readiness of professional services firms. Based on the research, a simple, fast-track innovation process was developed to instil confidence among leadership teams that organising bespoke design sprints to explore business opportunities and reflect on the associated challenges will generate valuable insights and help them convert those insights into action. 

The AI Readiness: A Collaborative Design Toolkit for Professional Services Firms developed by the project team draws on the key insight that the design sprint, a methodology developed originally in the US and freely shared, is a universal tool with equal relevance at any level in any organisation, irrespective of agenda. Similarly, the design sprint journey developed as part of this UKRI study is offered, via the Toolkit, on an open access basis for anyone to use. 

The primary stakeholders for the study are mid-sized professional services firms, in particular legal and accounting, throughout the UK. Secondary stakeholders include other professional services firms, policymakers, regulators and professional bodies who are focused on the success of the sector in a highly competitive post- Brexit and post-COVID world. 


Flexibility: A significant part of the reason why design thinking has been so successful in recent years is the spirit of curiosity it engenders. Not only do workshop structures and individual tools survive being adapted or swapped around, but they thrive on such creativity. The design sprint journey presented in the Toolkit applies whether the particular business challenge being addressed relates to AI readiness, radical innovation, strategy and policy, or a specific operational issue. Users are encouraged to experiment, while keeping a clear eye on intended outcomes. 

Futures: Working through the stages of the design sprint journey promotes greater awareness, capacity and capability around innovation in order to realise its potential. Embracing such an agenda may be challenging in a world of ‘experts’, whose value add is mainly dependent on insights from current perspectives. However, experts grounded in the present may not be the right people to develop plausible alternative futures. 

Barriers: Informal rules of conduct and similar cultural norms are often used as an excuse to prevent the adoption of technologies that can open the door to a host of new value-added services and client instructions, and have the potential to enrich and augment the long-term future of the sector. Collaborative design approaches can help to overcome this, and other barriers. 


Intelligence: Funding an on-going programme into the adoption of advanced technologies by sector firms and alternative providers of professional services could generate valuable intelligence for maintaining a strategic perspective, despite the AI ‘pendulum’. This fast-moving knowledge, which is not adequately tracked at present, could contribute significantly to leadership of sector SMEs when deciding which new technologies to adopt. 

Effectiveness: Despite the study being focused mainly on AI readiness, the experience of workshop participants showed that the design sprint journey has much broader applications. A follow-up study could usefully compare the effectiveness of the Toolkit with other tools for reframing and resolving business challenges. This would be valuable for leadership teams in sector SMEs when deciding how to develop strategy. 

Policy: Deploying the design sprint journey developed for the Toolkit within government could contribute to the existing work of the Policy Lab and other approaches to policy innovation. For example, looking at how best to define and  promote the world-class professionalism of UK firms to boost international trade in professional services. 

The opportunities and challenges facing mid-sized professional services firms  are highlighted in this infographicMid-sized firms stand to gain significant benefits in terms of productivity, efficiency and innovation from new technologies, yet often lack the scale and resources to invest in the kinds of R&D or organisational change and development projects needed to realise their potential. Innovation is needed to sustain – if not transform – their businesses. Evidence for this comes from weekly polls of leaders of mid-sized firms, conducted by study partners the Managing Partners’ Forum. 

Towards AI Readiness in Law and Accountancy Firms

Posted by Tim Vorley, March 2021

This report reveals the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and related new technologies in the accountancy and law professions and provides evidence of progress in its adoption, with a focus on mid-size firms. There should be no doubt that developments over the past few years have created opportunities to reimagine how aspects of the work of accountants and lawyers are carried out. However, the report also contains warnings about the challenges and risks professional services firms (PSFs) are likely to encounter.

In general, discussions about AI tend to exaggerate change and underestimate continuity. When combined with a common portrayal of ‘the emperor’s new AI clothes’ the effect is to exacerbate disengagement and can lead to disillusionment. Although the threat of mass job losses, with robots replacing humans, is misleading, the new technology discourse acts as an impediment to AI adoption, and more nuanced stories are needed about the implications for the professions of AI and new technologies. This would be an important starting point for advancing adoption.

The report concludes by encouraging PSFs to plan their journey towards AI adoption, whilst being realistic about what they can achieve in the short to medium term and demonstrating a willingness to engage with the big questions about the future of professional roles, firm structures and client relations. They must improve basic data handling and system interoperability to realise the benefits of AI tools, and work with a range of partners to help them identify the right tools for their needs. At the same time, the report calls on government, regulators and other actors to remove one of the biggest barriers to AI adoption by ensuring clarity in the regulatory environment. Our core message is that AI will not take your job as a professional, but it will change the way in which you work and the context in which all professional careers unfold. You, and your firm, need to be ready.

Understanding how AI and Data Analytics are shaping Accountancy and Audit.

Posted by Zoe Hunter, March 2021

Base of insights from the NextGenPSF project Professor Tim Vorley speaks with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) about how AI and data analytics is changing the accounting profession and the need to think more about what this means for the culture and operations of the business. This video forms part of a series from the ICAEW to engage and inform their members about the transformative potential of the technology. If you are interested to understand more about how the tools and resources designed and developed by the Nest GenPSF team can support your business in developing your business models and exploring innovation opportunities through design sprints please get in touch via

Using 2030 Scenarios to Explore Futures for Professional Services Firms.

Posted by Lucy Kimbell, February 2021

This report is a project output which aimed to understand and address the challenges facing mid-sized professional services firms in law and accountancy in adopting and implementing AI technologies. The main activities included: identifying important uncertainties facing these firms in the future, through an analytical and deliberative process; developing scenarios of 2030 in written and illustrated form; and developing and testing ways for people in legal services and accounting firms to explore the strategic implications of the scenarios developed and refined throughout the project.

The report contains the outputs of that work. It includes three 2030 scenarios developed as part of the research and suggests how they can be used in professional services firms to inform and support decision-making. To aid their use in firms, we include two methods, which were developed and tested with participants in the project, which are also included in the AI Readiness toolkit, with is one of the project’s main outputs.

The scenarios are presented in written and illustrated form. Each 2030 scenario has a narrative describing a plausible future world in 2030 in which professional services firms might find themselves operating, and a person-centred story written from the perspective of a professional in 2030, looking backwards. Each is accompanied by an original illustration, and a poster summarising the characteristics of that future world. 

Two methods aimed at scenario users in legal and accounting services firms are offered. The first supports professionals in a firm to explore the strategic implications of the three scenarios, or test an existing (AI or technology) strategy against them. The second enables professionals in a firm to bring the future into view by asking participants to create and discuss future news (digital) media artefacts, enabling meaningful discussion about uncertainties and revealing hidden assumptions.

NexGenPSF team on the Managing Partners' Forum Podcast.

Posted by Zoe Hunter, February 2021

In advance of the NextGenPSF project final conference in March 2021, Professor Tim Vorley speaks about the opportunity for professional services firms to re-tune their business models and explore innovation through design sprints. The project team has worked with a range of law and accountancy firms to facilitate design sprints, and in this webinar Tim  shares insights and reflections from the projects.  To hear more you can listen again to the webinar.

The role of incubator in developing NextGenPSF tech.

Posted by Tim Vorley, October 2020

Business incubation has become central to the development and implementation of next generation technology. Whilst the benefits of incubation have been well-established in other sectors and are vital parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the integration of incubation and accelerator programmes within professional services such as law and accountancy is embryonic. As part of the UKRI Next Generation Services project, we are addressing how the nature of incubation within professional services is driving innovation and consider how this business process is viewed both by incubators and start-up firms.

A webinar featuring incubators and accelerator programmes from across Asia, Europe and North America has explored this issue. Incubators range from government sponsored programmes, in-house corporate accelerators and legal sector-specific initiatives. The webinar discussion identifies the necessity to support value-adding ideas for future technological adoption.

Accelerators and incubators themselves provide access for start-ups and small companies to influential networks of stakeholders, expert advice on business model development, and direct support for the research and development of new products and services. The drivers for incubation are individuals within professional service firms who are implementing change and innovation. The webinar hears from an incubator in Canada who have created an environment that works with consumers to develop innovative solutions, as well as incubators from Finland, Austria and Singapore who refer to the broad range of social issues and commercial challenges which incubators and accelerators can address in agile ways.

“The important thing here is that we're very focused on both people and businesses. And it's all about the consumer. So, we don't use the word clients. Consumers can be big law firms, consumers can be large corporations, or it could be individuals, and so we're really focused on all of those areas. We achieve those goals in three main ways, incubation, supporting innovation agendas and designing the 21st century justice system”

The experiences of business incubation shared on the webinar illustrates how a sustained focus on new ideas, often previously stymied due to the ‘fail fast adage’, extend far beyond brand perception or tokenistic initiatives. There are dedicated people and resources which are driving new technical solutions in the legal sector across countless jurisdictions. For incubators working with national legal infrastructures, these relationships support national efforts to promote innovation. For others, it was the challenge of reconfiguring and modernising the justice system through frontier technologies with the potential to unlock new ways of working and creating value.

“Austria is not the biggest country probably in the world. And it's usually not the most innovative in terms of legally. But in terms of legal tech, we're pretty advanced over the last five years. Austria, because it's very small country, has really tried to push the boundaries. One thing is that our justice service over the last 20/30 years has been quite innovative. So, we already work with the justice system, and there's a lot of the court digital, and we found it over the last 25 years”.

The potential for incubation in the legal landscape has been underexplored and undervalued. The participants in the webinar demonstrated that innovation champions are working to develop entrepreneurial ambition and shaping the future of the sector. As the challenge of the pandemic and new ways of working unfold, the ability to work with technology will become critical. Our research will continue to focus on these challenges and if you would like to find out more about the incubation in the legal services programme of research, please contact Professor Tim Vorley, Dr Jorge Martins, Dr Paul Taylor, or Dr Chay Brooks for further information.

Derisking Conveyancing : An NGS Design Sprint

Posted by Lucy Kimbell, September 2020

This week the Next Gen PSF team worked with CILEx Regulation, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and  the CLC to use our design sprint format to examine how to augment the conveyancing process through share technology solutions. The design sprint sought to identify blockages or issues that reduce the efficiency, effectiveness or negatively impact on the client experience, and identify how there is scope to derisk the conveyancing through use of  AI and other advanced technologies. : Design Sprint Workshop

While HM Land Registry is moving to e-conveyancing, and there are other digital innovations in the market addressing aspects of conveyancing, the design sprint worked with a range of stakeholders to think through the problems and opportunities that have not yet been addressed. The Next Gen PSF team facilitated the event to enable effective collaboration, by allowing participants to share their knowledge and experience about where the issues and opportunities are in the current conveyancing process as well as the opportunities to use AI.

On the back of the workshop Cilex Regulation and the SRA have used the report summarising the outcome of the design spront as a resource to progress collective interests. Also following the design sprint Professor Tim Vorley presented the outcomes to the  ‘Home Buying and Selling Group’ (HBSG), which is an active body of 100+ conveyancing stakeholders.

NexGenPSF team on the Bak Up Podcast

Posted by Cristian Gherhes, June 2020

The research of the Next Gen PSF project has come a long way, uncovering a range of challenges and opportunities for AI adoption in legal and accounting services and supporting numerous firms in their technology adoption journey. In this podcast, Cristian shares insights from the projects and talks about the future of AI in professional services.  To hear more about the pressures and challenges of digital transformation and the implications of AI for the business models of PSFs, listen to the podcast below.

Professional Service Firms Annual Conference

Posted by Tim Vorley, July 2020

The Next Gen PSF team has participated in the annual Professional Service Firms conference at the Said Business School, University of Oxford. Along  side an array or internationally leading researchers, James Faulconbridge, Atif Sarwar, Martin Spring (Lancaster University) presented their work on 'Paradoxical Boundary Work: Creative Professional Responses to the Impacts of Artificial intelligence on Accounting and Law Work'. 

Future of the NextGenPSF Firm

Posted by Martin Spring, June 2020

Something I’ve been concerned with for most of my academic career is what is known in the trade (my trade) as the boundaries of the firm. What do we do ourselves, and what do we leave to someone else? And how do we connect the one to the other? This is fascinating – I think – in many ways, not least because it is a never-ending story: various factors such as changing technology, availability of new sources of supply, and changing market demands mean that a solution to this problem that makes sense now may be crazy in five years’ time. When the Ford Motor Company began the mass production of cars, they famously did everything from growing the timber for the wheel spokes to selling the car. Now, the major auto companies focus on development, assembly, and producing a few key components, outsourcing everything else. 

What’s this got to do with artificial intelligence in professional service firms? Well, one thing our research has revealed is the wide variety of ways in which engaging with AI-driven solutions potentially disrupts the boundaries of the PSF. And responding appropriately to these disruptions is critical for firm competitiveness. 

Traditionally, PSFs carried out most of the work themselves, through a judicious mix of senior and junior professionals and associates. With the rise in offshoring in the early 2000s, it became increasingly attractive to outsource what economic geographer Michael Storper called ‘routinised intellectual labour’ – preparation of standard documents, document searches etc - to specialist, low-cost providers in locations such as India, or even to the lower-cost locations within the UK (so-called ‘north-shoring’ - implicitly from higher cost bases in London). Now, as AI solutions operated within the firm can potentially take over some of the routinized tasks, this work can be brought back inside the firm. The economic logic of outsourcing has changed. And this doesn’t just mean that a lower-cost solution is achieved: since every additional division of labour creates an additional need for coordination, bringing everything under one roof also allows quicker, more agile and responsive service, potentially making it possible to win business on the basis of quicker delivery, more customised service, and more direct control over quality.

The potential of AI-driven solutions to complete higher-volume, standardised tasks can alter the boundary with the customer, as well as with erstwhile subcontractors. In circumstances where the PSF is handling large numbers of similar small tasks, AI solutions can be developed not just to complete the repetitive tasks, but also to allow the client to self-serve. The professional expertise and process is embodied in the AI solution, which is sold as part of a service package. This time it is the client who has the benefit of having everything on tap under one roof. Often, this leaves the PSF able to concentrate, in its relationship with the client, on more complex, strategic, profitable and satisfying work. 

The disruptive potential of AI-driven solutions on the boundaries of firms is not just a matter of slicing up the same old activities in different ways, by virtue of changing the relative costs of different arrangements as to who does what. It also entails generating entirely new activities, which arise from the analytical potential of the technology. Analysing vast numbers of documents very quickly and relatively cheaply, or conducting 100% audits rather than audits based on small samples of transactions can lead to new insights and new service offerings of an advisory nature that would be out of the question without AI. The boundaries of the PSF then contain new capabilities to offer new propositions and new sources of competitive advantage. A significant challenge here is to work out how to manage the boundary with the customer in respect of these new activities: who does what? Whom do we speak to? How do we charge for this? As ever, new boundaries create new coordination challenges. 

Another aspect of the traditional view of PSFs is that they are not very capital intensive. Although we are not at the stage yet where PSFs are as capital intensive as car factories or chemical plants, the mix is changing, as information technology in general, and AI solutions in particular, play a more significant role. This means that we need to consider the boundary related to technology development and provision, as well as those associated with delivering the core professional service. A crude framing of the question is ‘make-or-buy’: ‘Do we the develop technology ourselves or buy it?’ But the reality is much more complex and nuanced. We have found that PSFs very rarely simply buy AI solutions off the shelf and use them ‘out of the box’. Since the market for such solutions is relatively immature, there often isn’t a product ‘out there’ that will simply do what the PSF needs. Instead, there are myriad start-ups and more established vendors who are often glad to work with enterprising PSFs to co-develop bespoke solutions, using the PSF’s data and experience in the provision of the core professional service to hone the AI solution to be more useful in the real world. This means that the boundary with the external firm is not a simple one based on a contract for software as a service and a payment for so many user licences, but a rich and evolving collaborative relationship, where ‘who does what’ is, to some extent, worked out as the relationship develops. And enterprising PSFs are happy to have the edge on their competitors for a couple of years due to the distinctive capabilities of the AI solution, often with the use of the AI solution provided free of charge or at a much-reduced fee, in recognition of their part in its development.

Of course, the development ‘make-or-buy’ decision is mutually dependent on the mix of skills inside the PSF. If you have no technological skills, you have to buy solutions in. But buying in even relatively mature technologies typically requires some in-house adaptation and customisation. So the modern PSF probably cannot afford to have zero technology capabilities in house. The question is rather how much, of what type, performed in which job role. Lawyers who code? Technology specialists with professional backgrounds? Technology-capable people who are business process experts? Full-on data-scientists? These questions certainly arise, but are probably best discussed in more depth on another occasion. 

NextGenPSF webinar series in conjunction with the KTN: AI for Services group 

Posted by Tim Vorley, April 2020

Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, professional service firms have demonstrated the ability and agility  to embrace digital technologies and virtual working has been unprecedented. However, can this momentum be harnessed to realise the advantage of adopting more advanced technologies?

While the priority has been in adapting to the new normal, evidence has shown that there is an increased appetite for and engagement with technology. Ensuring that firms realise and leverage the advantages effectively adopting and implementing technologies to enable and augment new ways of working can be challenging. However, where successful such technologies may represent the first steps in the wider transformation of the firm.

Navigating this process requires understanding the value of data and potential technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to the future of Professional Services Firms. AI for Services, in partnership with the Next Generation Services project team, are offering an exciting and informative lunchtime programme focused on the organisational and operational opportunities and challenges associated with becoming AI ready.

Register here to join our series of weekly webinars delivered by leading academics and professionals drawing on their experience from across the professional services. As well as sharing their own perspectives and experiences on the opportunities and challenges facing the future of professional services firms, there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion about how technology is changing the way we work, and how this will continue in a post Covid-19 world.

What to expect

Grab a drink and a sandwich and join our one-hour online Thursday webinars to hear expert insights and stimulating debate by joining the AI for Services community. Each webinar will include presentations from thought leaders, followed by an interactive Q&A session.

Scenarios for the future of NGS

Posted by Tim Vorley, December 2019

One work strand aimed to explore the potential futures facing mid-sized legal and accounting services firms, using ‘scenario planning’ as an approach. Scenarios are plausible, challenging and relevant narratives of future contexts in which the user may find themselves. The main activities included: identifying important uncertainties facing legal and accounting services firms in the next decade, through an analytical and deliberative process; developing scenarios of 2030 in written and illustrated form; and developing and testing ways for people in legal services and accounting firms to explore the strategic implications of the scenarios through workshops held in 2019. Three 2030 scenarios were developed.

In the Platform Domination scenario, in 2030, a small number of very large firms and networks access private ‘data lakes’ to provide a wide range of services across borders and jurisdictions. Small and mid-size firms survive in niches.

In the Bumpy Superhighway scenario, in 2030, new entrants with digital and data skills provide AI-based non-protected services, with reduced prices and increased quality – benefitting from new models, deep pockets, existing strong brands and positive attitudes towards long-term investment.

In the Value Kaleidoscope scenario, in 2030, clients use AI-enabled search across a wide range of suppliers, underpinned by the same regulated AI. Full-service firms lose their advantage, providing more opportunities for small and mid-size firms. However, pricing pressures lead to reduced profitability for all.

New AI for Services Business Model Innovation Toolkit 

Posted by Tim Vorley, November 2019

Integral to the Next Generation Professional Service Firms project is rethinking the business model. Our new Business Model Innovation toolkit aims to support firm in thinking about innovation in the context of their business, and particularly in relation to the use of Artificial Intelligence. 

While there are a multitude of business model tools available the NextGenPSF team have developed a tool specifically intended for use with professional services firms. The tool works in 2 parts. First,  reflecting on the business model to understand what factors impact  the successful operation of the business.  Second, to explore how innovation relating to the offering, conficuration and customer esperience can add value to the business moving forward. This interavtive tool is used as part of our design sprint focused on AI readiness although can also be used to thing about wider opportunities for growth and development. If you are interested in finding out more, or want to have your firm participate in one of the sessions facilitated by the Next Generation PSF project team, contact us at

Design Sprint @ Work Foundation 

Posted by  Tim Vorley, Cristian Gherhes & Carlo Cordasco, October 2019

The first of a series of design sprints with legal services and accounting firms took place on Wednesday at the Work Foundation in London. The design sprints are structured workshops which allow the participants to engage with and explore future scenarios that involve AI in future professional services as well opportunities to rethink and innovate existing business models.

Based on a design thinking approach, the sprints are highly interactive and collaborative exercises that allow professionals working in legal services and accounting to reimagine their value propositions and increase their AI readiness. The sprints encouraged the participants to consider three scenarios that could reshape the legal services and accounting landscape by 2030 and to map out potential tools to embrace technological innovation. The aim of the sprints is to consider the barriers and opportunities to the adoption of AI in the respective sectors and to encourage proactive strategic thinking towards future horizons. 

 The first session at the Work Foundation involved 6 firms who engaged in workshops exploring a series of targeted topics through guided activities and group discussion. These included sessions that enabled the participants to map out and reflect on their firms’ existing business models, consider the need for, challenges and opportunities of business model innovation to support the adoption of AI-based technologies, immerse themselves into future potential scenarios involving AI and consider how these may impact or reshape their current activities, reimagine service delivery and discuss the future of professional services.

The participants had the opportunity to reflect on the design sprint activities and highlighted the key insights that they gained by participating in the workshop. These included “the tech is not a barrier but an enabler”, “we need to consider the implications of AI for our current business model and adapt”, “the main barriers to the adoption and implementation of AI solutions are cultural”, “we need to get buy in at the leadership level”, “all our barriers would be about the business model; this is what holds us back”, and “there is still a lack of understanding of what AI is and means for professional services”. Becky Shields, attending on behalf of Moore Kingston Smith, reflected on a successful first sprint: “Participating in the design sprint was a very good way of framing a problem, breaking it down and then building it back up and articulating solutions.”

The design sprints will continue in 2020 engaging with firms and professionals from the legal and accountancy sectors. If you are interested in finding out more, or want to have your firm participate in one of the sessions facilitated by the Next Generation PSF project team, contact us at

NGS Landscape Report

Posted by  Tim Vorley, October 2019

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) is predicated on the existence of a substantial yet bridgeable gap between new and emerging AI technologies and their enormous potential for application. Further, creating an economy that harnesses these AI technologies, coupled with big data, is seen as one of the great opportunities of our age, especially for early movers. Next Generation Services is a pioneer fund within the ISCF, launched to support the adoption of AI within legal, accounting and insurance services.

The report comprises three sections which provide overviews of the legal services PSFs landscape, similarly the accountancy landscape and lastly, the wider sectoral landscape. Methodologically, the report basis is secondary research and analysis of current market intelligence in the two sectors, synthesising data and insights from academic, policy and grey literature. The  primary focus of the desk-based review is to better understand the scope and nature of the mid-tier marketplace. 

The Future of AI in Accounting: In Conversation with Hugh Shields (ICAS)

Posted by Hilary Allen, September 2019

As part of the Next Generation Professional Service Firms Project, Hilary Smyth-Allen talks to Hugh Shields, Head of AI and Technology at ICAS, about his thoughts on the future of AI in the accountancy sector and the questions that this will raise for professional services firms.

It’s early on a Friday morning, central London and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those fascinating wide-ranging conversations and that the normal allotted hour for the formal research interview probably isn’t going to cut it. A rapid exchange of text and fleeting conversations reveal that I am in the right place, but Hugh’s a bit behind due to an over-run of his morning training session in preparation for a European athletics meet next month where he is representing GB. But in the meantime, I could read Hugh’s vision paper on the accounting sector in 2050, which arrives soon after via email. Our conversation begins….

Hilary: You’re fairly new in position with ICAS, I believe.  Can you tell me a bit more about you and the role?

Hugh: That’s right. In early March, ICAS launched a new agenda called Technology, Trust and Talent.  I’m the lead for the technology strand within that, being announced as the new Head of AI and Technology for the institution at that launch event. This is a part-time role that I am doing alongside my primary employment as a Global Director at Huawei Technologies. 

Hugh: I have a deep interest in AI generally, the technological capabilities and so forth. But fundamentally it’s about business processes.  AI isn’t goal in itself unless anchored in genuine understanding of the business processes.  

Let me give you a simple example from the housing association sector, where I volunteer as a Non-executive Director and a simple AI application in form of a chatbot to help address tenants’ issues, such as ”I’ve got a plumbing problem”. So they think they’re going to have a chat bot to help with the efficiency.  Well the business process part of it might say have you analysed why you’re getting all these plumbing problems from this area because you get far more from this area than you do from anywhere else round the country. There’s something systematic going wrong, which — by the way — the data could tell you; structured data would be able to tell you that, so there’s a sort of a technology angle there, or there is a technology angle there. But then you could go underneath and say, oh actually there’s this dodgy plumbing firm and they’re behind all these problems, so we could go and fix all these houses now, and then you won’t get the call coming through to the chat bot at all.

Hilary: So you don’t need a chat bot then?

Hugh:  That’s right; you have to understand business process, this is, because to me, I mean I'm not a technologist, but I basically now assume that anything is possible from a machine, if not necessarily today, then quite soon. My experience of working on AI project with the top AI scientists, I mean some of the very best people in the world is that every question I ask about the art of the possible is answered with “yes, we can do that”… basically anything I ask is possible in terms of technological AI capability.

So my role and benefit to these very bright technologists is to ask the right business processing questions to enable relevant and appropriate deployment of technologies. But the constraint that nearly always exists in the middle is access to the right data. 

Hilary: Can you expand a bit more on what the remit of your role is with ICAS please?

Hugh: Sure. The role that I have is to help member firms adopt new technologies, perhaps AI but perhaps other things. It’s to help inform policy debate about AI, which is why your research at Sheffield University is an interesting project to engage with for this work.  I have a particular angle that I'm coming from with all of this, which is the technological singularity, is basically the idea that at some point, maybe 20 years away, maybe 30 years away, but pretty close, robots can basically do every job that we can see today.  I mean everything.  Now, if you have that as a starting point then you start to think, gosh, what does this mean?  For me as an individual, for my company I work for, for society as a whole, for mankind?  Is this debate happening?  I don’t think that I, at least not on all the different levels that it ought to be? Technology is moving so fast but we mustn’t miss the debate. 

There are these are big questions that need addressing because in 30 years time, let’s say, you basically have a situation where robots are doing all the work, and the humans can be sitting on the beach drinking their gin and cocktail, or not, and this is the question.  What do you want to do?  How do you want to play it? Do you need companies? I mean if robots are doing all the work, all of it, do you need a board of directors skimming off all the profits?  At some point the robots could literally be doing everything. I believe that we are capable of doing away with human accountants as we know it.

Hilary: But what about judgement? Isn’t that the bastion of the professions and humans?

Hugh: There is nothing technologically speaking, I don’t think, to stop machines doing all accounting.  Right now.  That’s how I see it.  People say, well what about judgements? To which I respond to ask what about them? Take an example, say the complexities of what to provide for in a bank’s accounts when it receives a piece of litigation. How much should they provide for that?  Yes, it’s complicated, but you could load a machine up with all the cases, all the weightings, far more evidence, far quicker and give you a much better answer than any human.

Hilary: But the weak link being the data bit again?

Hugh: Well, yes. But the point is that there’s nothing stopping us loading the machine up with the data.  That can be done. What is human judgement then?  Well if you ask an audit partner, what do you think this should be, they’ll likely talk through their previous experiences of it. But isn’t that the same as giving the past in the form of data to a machine and getting a better, faster, more evidenced answer to the question about the provision?

I took this role with ICAS to have exactly these debates and support the profession in adjusting to the new ways in which work can be done.  Sure we don’t have the data in the right ways as yet, but that’s a temporary blip in the direction of travel which is one where technology challenges the business model entirely. I hope to be able to assist in leading our profession through this transformation as the first chartered accountancy professional body.  

 If you are interested in finding out more, or want to have your firm participate in one of the sessions facilitated by the Next Generation PSF project team, contact us at

AI for CFOs

Posted by Tim Vorley, June 2019

There is little question about the importance of Chief Finance Officers, where the responsibility for managing the financial actions of a business is as much about tomorrow as it is about today. When it comes to thinking about the role of AI in professional services firms it is therefore critical that the CFO is onboard. However, for many CFOs the reality is that there is a lack of understanding about the applications and potential of AI (and arguably technology more generally). As such, the NextGenPSF team have been contributing to a series of events with the CFO forum to raise awareness around the potential of AI and  the need to embrace AI investment. 

Recent research by Grant Thornton and CFO research talks about how the digital transformation journey will also require CFOs to alter their mindset when it comes to technology investments, and this represents a particular challenge for professional services firms. With the majority of firms still functioning as partnerships, there is often little incentive for partners to invest in technology when it directly impacts on their remuneration and bonus.  That said there is growing recognition about the importance of not just investing in technology but getting it right.

There is a need to move beyond the often negative attitudes towards investing in AI, which is perpetuated because AI for many is still a largely unknown quantity. If, however, the question of investing in AI is addressed as a strategic concern the tone of the conversation can be fundamentally different. The decision to invest AI is more likely to overcome the inevitable return on investment question, if it either addresses a problem in the business or enables the business to realise a growth opportunity.  As such the decision to invest in, and adopt, AI needs to be understood as a business model question.

Over the coming months the Next Generation PSF project team will be working with a number of legal and accounting firms to explore how they can approach the AI challenge. If you are interested in finding out more, or want to have your firm participate in one of the sessions facilitated by the Next Generation PSF project team, contact us at 

Next Gen Services Project Assembly

Posted by Tim Vorley, May 2019

On 14th May our NextGenPSF project team participated in an event for all funding recipients under the Next Generation Services (NGS) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund  (ICSF) priority.  The gathering brought together representatives from across the academically focued research projects as well as the more appliedcollaborative research and development (CRD) projects.

In framing the day Matt Hotson (CFO UK & International, RSA Insurance Group) reflected on the transformative potential of AI to the legal, accounting and insurance sectors currently prioritised under the ISCF. As well as highlighting the technical possibilities of new technologies associated under the grand challenge of AI and the data economy, CFO flagged how questions of people and strategy as critical to future competitiveness. 

Tim Vorley provided an overview of the NextGenPSF project (see the above video), alongside John Armour (University of Oxford) and Alistair Milne (Loughborough University). The presentations highligted clear links across the projects relating to the blurring of boundaries at the frontiers of the professions, as well as emphasising the importance of business models and business model innovation. Critically for the NextGenPSF project we regognised that the threat to mid-tier legal and accounting firms comes from above (i.e. the inverstment of the Big 4 and Magic Circle) as well as below (i.e. the start-ups disrupting through accounting, audit and legal-tech).

Another important outcome from the day was the emphasis on data. While frequently referred to as the new oil, it is imperative that the critical and value added of the refining process not be overlooked. Jeni Tennison (CEO, Open Data Institute) raised the importance of data as infrastructure and the need to ensure that the appropriate institutions are in place to ensure the future competitiveness of data intensive business and sectors. This challenge will be addressed directly by the NextGenPSF project.

Launching Next Generation Services

Posted by Tim Vorley,  February 2019

Following the announcement on 28 November 2018 from BEIS about funding for tech-driven legal and accounting boost productivity, we are delighted that the University of Sheffield led project was  funded . Our project is primarily concerned with the human (i.e. non-technical) aspects of implementing  new AI technologies in mid-size accounting and legal services firms. As well as analysing the potential barriers to adopting AI-based, the project is primarily concerned with harnessing the disruptive potential of AI and stimulating business model innovation for growth.  With AI set to transform professional services world-leading legal services , our project is about supporting mid-market firms to design approached to strengthen their position in the market. The  slides below provide an overview of the NextGenPSF project.

UKRI meeting.pdf

The other 2 projects funded were: 

Professor Milne’s research will explore the implications for the insurance industry of this wave of new digital technologies, with the support of many of the UK’s leading insurance companies. They will identify and map the range of opportunities for AI based innovation in business processes and business models, across underwriting and risk analytics, claims processing and customer engagement. They will examine, through engagement with industry on business opportunities and challenges and through a range of case studies, the barriers to adoption and the enablers of change.

Professor Armour’s research will look into the use of AI in the legal system. His research seeks to identify how constraints on the implementation of AI in legal services can be relaxed to unlock its potential for good. As well as governing economic order, the legal system is more fundamentally a structure for social order. As a result the stakes for AI’s implementation in UK legal services are high. If mishandled, it could threaten both economic success and governance more generally.