Digital Insights: The Future of Digital for the Professions


I was delighted to attend the recent launch of the Professional Body Sector Review 2016, PARN’s annual review on the state of the professional body sector.  The theme this year is the future. I wanted to share my thoughts on the future of digital as discussed by the professional body leaders in the book. For these blogs I normally focus on social media, but in this article I go wider to include broader digital insights for the sector.


Here are some of the standout future digital trends for the sector for me from the report’s case studies:

  1. Artificial intelligence (AI)

    AI is already starting to impact on the professions. Alastair McCapra, CEO of CIPR, provides some thought-provoking insights:

  • In the future, automation could replace some of the work that professionals currently do, and arguably the need for the professionals themselves. This could mean fewer roles, particularly junior training roles involving labour-intensive work – but it also impacts billable hours for senior professionals. The legal profession already uses e-discovery to sift through reams of documents, a time-intensive activity which has been traditionally carried out by employees.
  • AI has also begun to impact the world of communications. In 2013, Automated Insight Inc. created software that produced 300 million news stories – more than all the major media companies combined. I think the implications of this for in-house comms teams and their future roles could be far-reaching.
  • Professional bodies will need to work with members, particularly mid-career and senior professionals, to develop their ability to provide high-value advice to their clients and reposition what their members can offer. Organisations will also need to anticipate how changes in the digital landscape will affect both members and the organisation.


  1. Internationalisation

Digital innovations are really helping the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) to successfully deliver and support e-learning to its large global membership in 181 countries. I found the experiences of Alan Hatfield, Executive Director – Strategy and Development particularly interesting:

  • Delivering learning to students and members digitally has significantly increased ACCA’s international reach. The introduction of MOOC (massive open online course) technology has enabled anyone, anywhere to embark on a professional ACCA qualification, attracting over 43,000 learners from over 202 countries in its first rollout.
  • Digital platforms and media allow ACCA to connect its members, students, employers and learning providers to create a real sense of community – particularly useful for self-studiers. Digital advances have also revolutionised how ACCA can deliver and assess exams and work experience – allowing a customised experience for members.


  1. Cyber security

    There is evidence that hackers are already targeting professional bodies. I found the advice of Carolyn Williams, Director of Corporate Relations for the Institute of Risk Management, on how professional bodies can keep their membership data safe, particularly useful:

  • Membership bodies and the details they hold on their members, who are professional, educated and have healthy contact lists, are highly attractive for cyber criminals – making membership bodies likely targets.
  • The reputational damage to the organisation of a security breach, such as members’ details being accessed or leaked can be huge, so it is crucial to put processes in place and be one step ahead. Even the smallest professional body can create and maintain cyber security with four things: the will, the systems, the processes and the people.
  • Fortunately, cyber hygiene processes to counteract these threats are straightforward to introduce and maintain, but as cyber crime evolves, they need continuous monitoring. The IRM has produced a comprehensive guide to cyber risk and also recommends the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council’s guide.


Looking to the Future is a good read – you can download your free copy here


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