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Opinion

The rise of ‘DIY digital’ and the democratisation of services

Rich Dean, Creative Director

By Rich Dean on

Supersonic Playground Ltd

A major shift to emerge from the digital revolution has been ‘DIY digital’ and the democratisation of services. The rise of online themes, templates and Software as a Service (SaaS) has meant that industries that were previously the preserve of experts are now being opened up to everyone.

Whether this is positive or negative depends on where you sit. Opponents will proclaim that there’s no replacement for the experience and intuition that comes from years of practice. Proponents will tell you that automated online services will continue to evolve until they can match, and perhaps even beat humans.

One thing is for sure – it’s not going away. In this article, we look at a handful of industries that have already been affected.

Recruitment

The recruitment industry was one of the early adopters, with online job posting services such as Monster.co.uk having been around since the early 2000’s. The industry has remained strong – in fact it’s biggest challenge is not digital evolution but saturation, as more and more have joined the party.

Recruiters tend to be the ones who use these online services the most, and they will tell you that there’s no replacement for their ability to build relationships that unlock the doors to the right jobs and candidates. However, any business that has used a recruiter will testify that their ability to understand the role and provide the right candidate can be hit and miss.

The recruiter’s saving grace is the fact that the current crop of online services merely allow both sides to exchange jobs and CVs to be manually found, with no real intelligence adding any value. This works in the recruiter’s favour now, but things could change if a service that could intelligently match roles against skills gains dominance and makes a recruiter’s skills obsolete.

Web design

Our industry has undergone massive changes over the last decade, with the proliferation of low cost templates and themes. A decade ago web design was specialist to designers and agencies, but nowadays anyone with basic IT experience can create their own website by purchasing a theme or signing up to an online service such as Wix.

This has democratised web design and it means that individuals or businesses who could previously not afford a website are now able to present their businesses effectively online, which itself has lowered the barrier to entry for starting a business.

However, while the technology and components behind these themes can be reused for mass market, the creative problem solving and artistic flair that a good designer can offer cannot be automated. One of the main drawbacks of using a low-cost theme or template is exactly that – it creates an impression of scarcity for the business. Quite often we work with growing businesses who have started with a low-cost theme and now want a bespoke solution that presents their business as more established, credible and trusted.

Accountancy

According to recent press coverage, human accounting is on a path to obsolescence, with a recent report by online accounting software Xero claiming that 59% of small businesses don’t think they’ll need an accountant in 10 years’ time.

The government is also pushing hard for accountancy to be more automated and for businesses to directly link their finances with HMRC, and this automation will make many tasks that accountants currently perform largely redundant.

However, accountancy – and particularly the tax system – is highly complex, and to navigate it effectively not only requires a detailed understanding of the inner workings, it also requires an intuitive understanding of what the business or client is trying to achieve. The value of a good accountant is how their knowledge can help businesses navigate a tax system that is weighted towards the government’s, not the business’ benefit.

Estate agency

The estate agency industry has remained largely unaffected, but recent entrants Purplebricks and Sarah Beeny’s tepilo are recognising homeowners’ desire to reduce costs by offering somewhat automated, fixed price services, but with an ‘experts along the way’ element designed to retain the valuable human expertise.

Estate agents will proclaim that there is no replacement for the intuitive understanding of a local area and the factors that contribute towards an accurate property valuation.

However, selling a property is largely down to two factors – how much exposure it can get and how much someone is prepared to pay for it. There are already two market leaders that cover this – Rightmove has established itself as the go-to place to find a property, and Zoopla uses real data to determine a property’s value. If there was an intelligent system that could combine both elements, it could make the role of the traditional estate agent largely redundant.

Conclusion

It would be easy to draw a gloomy conclusion for service-based businesses, but we believe there’s reason for not just optimism, but, excitement. It’s true that those who fail to embrace technology will struggle, but there are some areas where human expertise cannot be replaced. The businesses that, not only embrace new technologies and use them in innovative and unexpected ways, but who also clearly define the value that they add, will be the ones who enjoy enormous success in the years to come.

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