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Business & Finance

Automation, skills and institutions in knowledge-intensive business services

The project is partly financed by the ESRC-funded Digital Futures at Work Research Centre ( It belongs to Digit's Research Theme 3: Sector case studies of the nature of digital adoption by employers, and how this is potentially transforming business models, management practices, and employees’ experiences of work.

This project will gather qualitative data on new automation technologies and how they affect workers’ productivity, employment and skills. It will investigate whether and how the institutional context influences the adjustment to automation technologies and what mechanisms (e.g. skills/human capital investments & re-skilling for digital skills) facilitate the improvements in productivity. Empirically it will focus on the organisational fields of knowledge-intensive services (e.g. financial services/professional services, IT and telecommunications) which are undergoing a massive digital transformation of their front- and back-office operations.

Drawing on the inter-disciplinary expertise of the investigators, it will contribute to theory and evidence, first, on the characteristics of automation technologies, their effects on productivity, occupational restructuring and workers’ skill-mix; and second, the role of national/sectoral actors and how they reconfigure sectoral ecosystems and business models. The research design and institutional analysis will focus on the UK but will also draw on data from other countries (e.g. Germany) to facilitate international organizational comparisons of factors that drive productivity and performance.

The project builds on earlier work by the investigators on the digitalisation of service work; on new technologies and the future of work; the development of organisational capabilities and skills in service firms; and vocational training and skills development in comparative perspective.


The project aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of automation in services?
  2. What is the impact of automation on employees’ skills and their jobs?
  3. How are the business models and ecosystems reconfigured (firm boundaries, interorganizational forms and firm capabilities)?
  4. How do national/sectoral institutions influence the adjustment process?
Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigators



Funding Body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Amount: £21,408.35

Period: September 2021 - August 2022

Contact us

Andreas Kornelakis