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In what will probably feel obvious in hindsight, artificial intelligence and other technologies may be about to compete with or even displace management consultants and some of the services consultancy firms offer. The reality of the situation will take a moment to unpack, but here's a spoiler — the result should be better insights for the organizations retaining consultants, along with greater capabilities and less busywork for the consultants themselves.
Proven Potential in Consulting for Multiple Industries
One of the more interesting recent applications of AI in the consulting landscape was McKinsey's acquisition of QuantumBlack. The latter's AI products were of interest to McKinsey, a research and consulting firm, for a variety of reasons.
McKinsey described their newly acquired AI partner as a pioneer in "the use of big data and advanced analytics to improve organizational performance" and the acquisition as a "deliberate strategy to bring new tools, technologies and capabilities to [our] clients."
But what, specifically, will QuantumBlack bring to a consultancy like McKinsey? Why do they appear so pleased with themselves for cornering the market early on AI in professional consulting? Perhaps it's because of QuantumBlack's already-proven use cases:
- It was used by a major bank to process historical and real-time data to determine why sales for some product lines had become stagnant while others were flourishing.
- It saw deployment in the oil and gas industry to help streamline the engineering behind the site design process.
Applying artificial intelligence to the services their firm already provides, says McKinsey, could net their clients savings of 25 percent or more on their end, thanks to newly surfaced process improvements, competitive advantages and opportunities to incorporate other technologies into the business environment and company workflow.
Tools for Uncovering Unstructured Data in Major Research Projects
Other companies are demonstrating the power of advanced analytics and AI in research and consulting. This one is called Amplyfi, which is based in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Whereas QuantumBlack had been acquired and adapted into an in-house asset by McKinsey, Amplyfi is an independent, AI-based research and consulting firm.
What they offer is a way to trawl through and process an almost unthinkable amount of data from across a variety of "unstructured big data sources" and in any modern language that survived the digital revolution. This AI tool can even scan through the deep web, which is a known haven for all kinds of information that could be of value to companies who've retained business consultancies: things like patent filings, research and academic papers, and even some proprietary information.
For comparison's sake, the company boasts that it would probably take a team of 200 to produce the same level of detail in a consultancy's research report. The result is a vast variety of structured and unstructured data concerning people, regions, companies, market trends and more — and it's all useful when it comes to drawing up short- and long-term business strategies, including plotting new product rollouts and exploring the potential benefits of (and doing due diligence for) a proposed acquisition.
Practical Technologies for Consultants in the Field
There are many kinds of consultants — from business consultants to engineering and maintenance consultants. What many of them have in common is that they must often meet their clients wherever they are. That means traveling.
One piece of technology for traveling consultants that has immediate and obvious appeal is the mobile app, which can provide ready access to the things every consultant needs, like client notes, contact information, expense reporting tools, password managers, secure document storage and more. It's a small thing, but it's improving life for consultants everywhere.
Think, now, about another kind of consultant — a mechanic, inspector, engineer or another specialist who must travel to clients' facilities to inspect stalled equipment, failed climate control and a variety of other increasingly advanced equipment that has halted production or created unsafe conditions. Sometimes, they even find the problem was user error instead of something more serious.
The internet of things makes it possible for technicians and engineers to conduct troubleshooting remotely and gather information about developing problems — in many cases, without setting ever foot on the shop floor or opening the door on the server closet.
It's Not a Replacement for Human Intuition — It's a Missing Link
Artificial intelligence and other technologies certainly stand a chance of displacing some specialists in the consulting field. One expert from RedKite says larger firms could even replace eight- or 10-person teams with automation and algorithms when it comes to performing due diligence on research for company clients.
Achieving better outcomes with an even smaller team of people is one of technology's proximate promises. Perhaps not many of us expected such results from applying next-generation technologies to consulting, but like we said — maybe it was obvious in hindsight. The accuracy of the information used in a field like this, and the soundness of the insights gathered from it, have to be unimpeachable for a consultant or their firm to "make it," competitively speaking.
So, maybe it's not a surprise that modern consultants can now outsource the research and web-crawling parts of the business while retaining responsibility for delivering meaningful, humanistic analysis of whatever's uncovered. This is probably why the demand for big data-savvy analysts and consultants is only expected to increase in the coming years, rather than decrease.
Another way to look at this is that AI is adding powerful new tools and vast new opportunities to the modern consultant's toolkit — but it also demands that he or she learn new skills, including working with new kinds of technology toward a better result.