How will the AI revolution affect management consulting?
Artificial intelligence, or AI, describes any machine or computer system that emulates human intelligence processes. For management consultants, it’s going to completely change the way we work, especially in terms of speed when it comes to collecting and analysing granular data.
AI has existed for a long time and you’ll likely have already experienced using it. In 2016, UBS Group AG signed a partnership with Amazon to allow for economic insights, signifying one of the first instances in which AI has been able to give accurate financial advice to users.
Of course, there isn’t any direct substitute for the tailored and highly personalised recommendations a consultant offers their clients, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that AI might outperform humans in certain aspects of the job, including presentation and data analysis.
What do management consultants do?
Before we consider the impact of AI on management consultancy, it’s important to understand why businesses require our services in the first place. Generally, we’re brought in to solve a problem and this will always remain a pillar of consultancy, but let’s think about the other key aspects of the profession.
Firstly, a consultant is tasked with collecting vast quantities of data and, with the application of their skillset, turning these insights into actionable outcomes that support business decisions.
Giant consulting firms have existed for decades and they thrive on successful relationships, with return clients bringing experts in because they rely on their skills and know they’ll get the job done. An external perspective can be highly influential to internal decisions, so you could argue that it’s a business that relies, in part, on trust and reputation.
Finally, management consultants are renowned for being intelligent and decisive. A senior position at a top firm signifies an individual’s competence and ambition, letting business leaders know they can bring plenty of value.
Why is any of this important? I’m sure many readers already know what management consultants do. Well, as AI continues to be implemented within the industry, it’s going to disrupt some of the patterns we’ve become accustomed to. For many, this means you’ll have to shift the goal posts and alter the ways in which you bring value to clients.
Implementing AI within management consulting
If anything is certain, it’s that firms aren’t simply going to give up because of new technology. In fact, some management consultancies across the globe have identified the potential threat of AI and acted accordingly to make the most of it.
In 2015, McKinsey acquired QuantumBlack, a London-based AI company. This was immediately highlighted as an attempt to leverage the power of artificial intelligence. Previously used to analyse the vast amount of data in Formula One racing, it quickly became an accelerating force for McKinsey’s work in analytics and according to the firm’s global survey, The State of AI in 2022, implementing it has matured into a core topic on the CEO’s priority list.
Between 2010 and 2021, many Fortune 500 organisations began acquiring AI startups at an overwhelming pace. In that time frame, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook bought 69 companies between them. This is a trend that’s forecast to continue with consulting firms, too.
There’s a limit to how much data a human can collect and analyse. Businesses that have quickly adopted AI to perform advanced data analytics are spending their valuable time and resources much more effectively and efficiently. This poses a risk to management consulting businesses, paving the way for companies to become self-sufficient and potentially no longer require a consultant’s advice.
However, we’re far from the time when AI can do all of the work. As things stand, machines can certainly perform the most complex data analysis and even some decision-making, but humans are required to make sense of it to offer advice to clients. Consequently, professionals comfortable with data science will become increasingly sought after in the future of the industry.
Can AI replace management consultants?
The benefits of AI implementation are already visible and, although there’s a significant opportunity growing for consultants with the right skillset, there’s no doubt that the presence of the technology will continue to grow. It’s more than likely that repetitive and time-consuming tasks, like data analysis and research, will be replaced.
However, firms are working hard to adapt to a hybrid environment. The benefits of AI can be found in training employees on how to maximise its potential. Firms that are aware of AI capabilities and trends will be able to develop consultants with sharpened human qualities, including critical thinking and emotional intelligence, building a competitive advantage in the future.
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