Government-commissioned research led by University of Sheffield will help law and accountancy firms adopt new technologies

  • Research project will help mid-sized law and accountancy firms adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies – helping to improve the productivity and prosperity of cities and regions across the UK
  • Sheffield University Management School-led project is one of three successful bids to the Industrial Strategy Challenges Fund Next Generation Services call

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A major new research project led by the University of Sheffield will help mid-sized law and accountancy firms adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to improve productivity.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Tim Vorley from the University of Sheffield’s Management School, is one of three successful bids to the Industrial Strategy Challenges Fund (ISCF) Next Generation Services call.

Understanding the transformative potential of AI involves looking at individual firms, the outcomes provided to clients, and the business processes and predictions that are deployed.

Professor Tim Vorley

The research, commissioned by the UK government, will focus on helping people adopt new technologies.
Professor Vorley will lead a team of colleagues from the University of Sheffield; Lancaster University; Manchester Business School; The University of the Arts, London; as well as non-academic partners the Managing Partners’ Forum and Normann Partners.

The project, Innovating Next Generation Services through Collaborative Design, will focus on firms that are cautious or uncertain over how to implement technological change.

Rather than focusing solely on new technologies, the research will involve exploratory prototyping of solutions designed in collaboration with firms to enable a rapid generation and assessment of potential future applications of artificial intelligence across businesses. This is critical if adoption within sector firms is to be broadened.

The services sector accounts for almost 80 per cent of the UK economy, with professional services the largest sub-sector representing 11 per cent of GDP.

Professor Vorley said: “Understanding the transformative potential of AI involves looking at individual firms, the outcomes provided to clients, and the business processes and predictions that are deployed.

“Our project will focus on understanding the technological and behavioural barriers facing mid-sized legal and accountancy firms, and suggesting potential solutions, as this is the segment where intervention will have maximum impact on the continued success of the overall sector.”

Dr Chay Brooks, a co-investigator at Sheffield University Management School, added: “The adoption of AI will have a transformative impact on professional service businesses. Given the emphasis in the Industrial Strategy on the place agenda, our work focusing on mid-tier legal and accountancy firms is important for the productivity and prosperity of cities and regions across the UK.”

Richard Chaplin, a co-investigator from the Managing Partners’ Forum. said: “The potential of AI remains hypothetical unless and until the leadership team at a firm has the authority, confidence and knowledge to persuade frontline advisers to embrace new ways of working. ‘Command & control’ is seldom a viable route to bring about change at a professional firm.”

Business Secretary, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, said: “The UK is the home of AI - from Alan Turing’s pioneering work to today’s growing use of AI throughout the economy. Artificial Intelligence is changing how we work, live and play.

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy, we want to build on our history of innovation to develop and deploy AI to create new opportunities and improve services across the whole economy.”

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Additional information

This project complements the portfolio of work of colleagues at Sheffield University Management School leading the Productivity Insights Network and the Innovation Caucus.

The AI and Data Grand Challenge

Artificial intelligence and the data-driven economy is one of the four Grand Challenges within the modern Industrial Strategy. Using AI across a variety of industries, including law and financial services, will put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.

The modern Industrial Strategy

  • The modern Industrial Strategy, published last year, set out how the whole of the UK can build on these strengths, extend them into the future, and capitalise on new opportunities. Investing in science and research to keep us at the forefront of new technologies and the benefits they bring. Nurturing the talent of tomorrow - through more outstanding schools, world-leading universities and the technical skills that will drive our economy. And transforming the places where people live and work – the places where ideas and inspiration are born – by backing businesses and building infrastructure not just in London and the South East but across every part of our country.
  • Innovative ideas that bring together world-class UK science, research and innovation to develop cutting edge products and services of the future have received an extra £1.7bn making it the largest increase for 40 years (to £7bn). That includes £210m to develop new medical diagnostic tools and treatments, £90m for the food and farming industry to embrace agri-tech and £184m for 41 UK universities to train the next generation of world-class scientists and engineers.
  • Six sector deals between government and industry have been published – from construction and automotive to nuclear and the creative industries, including £1.9bn of investment in life sciences and £1bn for artificial intelligence. They are not only about attracting investment and growth, but also ensuring we have the skilled, diverse workforce we need for the future.
  • Plans for new technical qualifications (t-levels) and to transform the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.
  •  Furthered the connectivity of Britain’s towns, cities and rural areas, including the first allocations of the £190 million full-fibre challenge fund and £25 million for six 5G testbeds across the UK.
  • Opened the Transforming Cities Fund with billions of pounds ready to go to projects that drive productivity by improving connections within city regions.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046
h.postles@sheffield.ac.uk