Is AI Going to Impact the Consulting Industry in 2023?

December 7, 2022

Every generation had its fear of a particular technology. In modern history, this fear of psychosis dates back to the days of the first industrial revolution and represents the uneasiness that humans feel about the disruption of any kind. AI (artificial intelligence) is the most-feared technology of our time.

Over the decades, there have been movies and literature, fueling people’s imagination and subsequent insecurity about a world where machines dominate humans. For an industry that capitalizes on human knowledge as its primary asset, the proposition of artificial intelligence replacing human intellect is not very comforting.

Is this fear totally ungrounded or is there any basis for it? And there is the volley of takeovers of AI companies by consulting firms! What does this trend suggest? What is Artificial Intelligence going to bring to the consulting landscape — disruption or evolution?  This Insight attempts to visualize the future in light of what happened over the past months of this year.

How AI Fits Into Consulting Right Now?

In the digital age, Artificial Intelligence has become an extremely popular tool for businesses of all sizes including the consulting industry as well. Most Artificial Intelligence solutions not only provide valuable insights that can help companies save time and money, but they are also able to automate tedious tasks and circumnavigate many barriers in a company’s operations.

It is unsurprising then that more consulting firms are starting to include AI solutions as part of their services. However, in spite of its potential benefits, it is understandable that people, including consultants, are concerned that Artificial Intelligence could end up displacing many human jobs as businesses become increasingly dependent on robots and machines.

Yet while this fear may have been justified when it was first voiced in 2017, subsequent advancements in the field of AI have revealed that partnership between humans and machines can create a mutually beneficial situation for both individuals and businesses.

Humans bring the creativity and emotional intelligence needed to reach out to customers, whereas AI can provide valuable data-driven insights with speedier turnaround times than any manual process could achieve.

For consultants, this means being able to deliver even better services by bringing together the best of human and machine capabilities into their craft – making them even more attractive prospects for clients looking for unparalleled insight into their business operations.

Ultimately, if used correctly, AI can empower rather than replace human workers, making consulting jobs safer now than ever before.

What AI Cannot Replace?

Despite the clear benefits of leveraging Artificial Intelligence in consulting, with its speed and efficiency, human consultants are still invaluable. Artificial Intelligence in consulting should be seen as an opportunity to increase human capabilities instead of taking them away.

For example, Artificial Intelligence can crunch data faster than anyone and present trends and insights that would take humans days or weeks to discover. This newly freed time can then be spent thinking up creative strategies, analyzing risk profiles and giving clients a better understanding of their problems.

In this way, we can empower consultants to provide personalized advice that advocates for their clients’ interests at all times. Put simply, if you’re looking for passionate strategizing and insightful problem solving, you’ll need human professionals – not Artificial Intelligence – behind the wheel.

Artificial Intelligence may simplify tasks and allow us to work faster but it’s no replacement for a savvy consultant who won’t rest until they have helped their client get the best outcome possible.

At the end of the day, it is humbling to know that no matter how advanced our technology becomes nothing can replace human creativity, intuition and experience in such a complex field as consulting is.

That’s why AI should be viewed as an ally – not an enemy – so that both monovalent forces can collaborate towards achieving outstanding results on behalf of clients everywhere.

So, the question is, what Artificial Intelligence cannot replace when it comes to consultants? Let’s have a look!

#1. Human Skills

Artificial intelligence technology has come a long way, with computers now being programmed to learn and act independently. But as impressive as this might be, Artificial Intelligence currently lacks the nuanced skills necessary to build meaningful business relationships with people.

As humans, we have the innate ability to persuade, negotiate and connect based on something more than just logic and raw data; we put into practice techniques that rely on empathy, understanding and relating to individual perspectives.

This is where AI falls short because it is still not advanced enough to understand emotions such as fear or love or excitement – these human elements aren’t programmed into an AI system’s “vocabulary” yet.

Without these qualities, there is no way for a computer system to actually engage with another person from a business perspective in a genuine, meaningful way. That’s why in its current form, AI will always remain unable to handle certain scenarios in which relationships need to be forged between humans.

Things such as pitching an idea or making a sale are all tasks best left up to humans – at least for now. Still though, Artificial Intelligence can make decisions and offer recommendations rapidly (and sometimes more accurately) than humans so there may yet be ways in which we see profitable collaborations between man and machine prospering together in the future.

#2. Contextual Reasoning

Artificial Intelligence is becoming increasingly powerful, so it’s understandable why some people believe that it could eventually replace human consultants. However, AI still lacks a certain level of emotional intelligence and contextual reasoning that humans possess.

Human consultants are able to take multiple factors into account, such as the goals and desires of their clients, the business culture in a given area, and even the current tone in the industry. AI can process data to an impressive degree, but when it comes to arriving at optimal conclusions it often falls short.

Artificial Intelligence requires specific data as input before offering any advice or making critical decisions – something that’s often not available in business scenarios. As such, while AI plays an ever more important role in business services due to its robustness with numbers and calculations, it is unlikely to ever fully supplant human consultants whose talents lie in understanding context and nuance.

#3. Trust & Reputation

It’s no secret that artificial intelligence is transforming the way we do business. From chatbots to predictive analytics, AI-driven solutions are revolutionizing industries.

However, one area in which automation has not been able to compete with traditional consultancy services is trust and reputation. For many clients and businesses, the trustworthiness of an AI solution simply cannot compare to that of an established, successful consultancy firm.

This is largely due to the fact that older generations still hold significant roles within businesses and may remain hesitant to invest in something they don’t quite understand or lack experience with. Artificial Intelligence may be powerful but still falls short on reputation and trust — two key factors in making a purchase decision for any service or product.

Despite its potential for automation, AI will likely remain second in status to conventional consultants until it can gain equal recognition and trust from clients around the world. Until then, consultants rule supreme when it comes to reputation and trust.

What AI cannot replace

Then, How Is AI Disrupting the Works of Consultants?

As the world of business keeps evolving at a rapid pace, it is embracing innovations to fulfill its short and long-term needs. Artificial Intelligence is one of the innovations that are poised to disrupt businesses and lives. Besides, manufacturing, life sciences, marketing, and finance, AI is already heavily in the consulting space. So what are the outcomes of the marriage between technology and consulting?

First of all, the Artificial Intelligence unleashed competition between technology leaders and traditional strategy consultancies. In this situation, consulting forms must understand the process of disruption in order to succeed.

The efficacy of AI lies in its ability to process a humungous amount of data and transform them into actionable insights. It can also play a critical role in churning out customized solutions for specific regions, countries and so on. Here, technology leaders play the upper hand due to vast data sets, capital abundance, and expertise in using AI to solve complex problems.

This phenomenon is highlighted by initiatives such as Google’s Advanced Solutions Lab, which provides clients with consulting services that draw on their Artificial Intelligence capabilities. It is clear that these tech firms have the upper hand when it comes to solving challenges quickly and effectively.

However, traditional consultancies are the best option for small and medium businesses that may not have access to the same data or resources as larger organizations. In either case, it is important to recognize that disruption in consulting is an ongoing process — strategies must remain fluid to stay ahead of the pack.

With these considerations in mind, both tech firms and consultancies can turn disruption into a viable business opportunity instead of merely a threat.

So, What Can Consulting do To Ride the AI Wave?

One thing it surely cannot afford to do is it cannot be hostile to changes. Companies in all industries are facing constant disruption, both from large-scale global events as well as smaller scale upheavals. This can create great uncertainty and risk in uncertain times, but there are strategies to help mitigate these risks or so-called challenges.

One of the most promising strategies is self-disruption — proactively reinventing a business model before disruption renders traditional approaches obsolete. Another strategy is mergers and acquisitions (M&A). M&A allows businesses to acquire new technology, skills, capabilities and expertise to position them ahead of the curve when it comes to disruption.

Finally, partnership models such as joint ventures and alliances offer an effective way for businesses to collaborate with each other towards mutually beneficial goals.

All three of these approaches have their own set of merits and demerits, yet they all have the potential to reduce risk and increase resilience against disruption if implemented correctly. Therefore, it is certainly possible for companies to protect themselves from imminent disruptions through self-disruption, M&A and partnerships.

Now, let’s have a look at them in a bit more detail.

#A. Self-Disruption

Self-disruption often poses a challenge for consulting firms, as they must both stay relevant and keep up with technological advancements. One way to accomplish this is to strengthen their human element in artificial intelligence efforts by recruiting highly sought-after data scientists.

BCG Gamma is an excellent example of this strategy. This in-house team of 300 specialized technical members works closely with clients to determine the best technologies to use when building AI capability. This forward-thinking initiative proves that the human element can play a pivotal role in helping consulting firms remain competitive.

By bringing on professionals who are experienced in big data modelling and other key components of AI, these companies can ensure that their services remain cutting-edge and help them understand increasingly complex client issues for better problem solving. Through this kind of recruitment and self-disruption, consulting firms can stay ahead of the rapidly changing technology landscape.

#B. Mergers & Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are often seen as a successful way for consultancies to reach the heights of their respective industries. In 2015, one such example occurred in the form of McKinsey & Company acquiring UK-based QuantumBlack.

This acquisition showed the capability of both firms and indicated how much professional potential they had. Through procuring QuantumBlack’s access to AI development and big data technology, McKinsey was now able to give its clients further insights and capabilities that would otherwise be unavailable.

The combination of both companies’ expertise has been described as pioneering by many and is continuing to provide a plethora of knowledge for countless organizations around the world today.

It stands out as a prime example of how M&A could benefit a consultancy looking for ways to enhance success, particularly when such mergers complement each other so closely. As such, it is clear that modern consultancies should consider this route if seeking to reach their highest potential.

Moreover, some recent examples of consulting firms acquiring AI companies include Deloitte’s acquisition of SFL Scientific’s Business to enhance its cutting-edge AI and science-based capabilities. The expansion enables Deloitte to offer a broader range of services to its clients and provide a unique opportunity to bring a more cost-effective approach to data science, analytics, and machine learning technologies.

Another example would be Accenture’s acquisition of Japanese big data and AI consultancy ALBERT. This acquisition enables Accenture to develop cutting-edge solutions that are tailored to the needs of clients around the world. By combining ALBERT’s deep knowledge of Japanese culture, technology and markets with Accenture’s global platform, clients in both countries will benefit from an expansive network of integrated services across industries.

A few other examples include: Boston Consulting Group’s acquisition of AI powered software firm Foundation, Deloitte Canada’s purchases of AI consultancy Dataperformers Company Inc and Groundswell Group, etc.

As you can see, a growing number of consulting firms are recognizing that AI technologies are transforming their services and they have taken steps to benefit from these developments. This includes acquiring existing AI companies, who bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to applying AI concepts to solve real-world problems.

Once incorporated into their existing portfolio, these acquisitions will no doubt lead to an explosion in AI-driven consulting services, enabling the firms to provide much more complex and personalized advice.

From forecasting customer trends, to automating operational processes or diagnosing potential problems in a fraction of the time it would take with traditional methods, there is huge potential for consulting firms that embrace and implement AI technologies.

As such acquisitions continue apace, the wider consulting landscape is sure to be drastically changed by this influx of cutting-edge capabilities. Ultimately, equipped with a deep understanding of machine learning algorithms, data science techniques and other advanced analytics toolsets – combined with their current capabilities – consultants will be able to extract maximum value from clients’ businesses through highly informed policies and strategies.

The implications are vast; both now and in the future, organizations should keep up-to-date on advances being made in the world of consultancy technology if they want to remain competitive.

That said, AI by itself is not a silver bullet; without strong ethical guidelines and effective human oversight blocking any potentially dangerous applications – such as those related to biasing decisions based on predictive models – even powerful tools like those coming out of consulting firms will deliver minimal value for businesses.

Nonetheless, as advisors prepare for this next era shift it is safe to assume that organizations everywhere can expect exciting new opportunities for growth brought about by innovative ways of using technology together with expert insights powered by Artificial Intelligence developments led by consultancy firms.

#C. Strategic Partnerships

Strategic partnerships are another way for consultancies to grow and reinvent themselves. When organizations work together, they have the opportunity to learn new methods, technology and approaches that can help them expand their business offerings.

For example, if a consultancy is looking to break into a new sector such as healthcare or cybersecurity, they may partner with a local business which specializes in that field in order to gain access to specific skillset and industry best practices. This kind of partnership requires good communication between both businesses in order to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses while also leveraging one another’s networks.

Furthermore, by collaborating regularly, consultancies are able to build trust with their partners which can lead to long-term relationships and future opportunities for growth. In today’s competitive market, developing such mutually beneficial relationships is essential if a consultancy wants to stay competitive and thrive.

By leveraging strategic partnerships, consultancies can increase their range of services as well as refine their offering by building on proven practices from industry experts. In this way, partnerships can be an important tool for helping consultants increase their market reach and operational efficiency at the same time.

Some examples of strategic partnerships include: Booz Allen Hamilton and Kion signing a strategic partnership to help government clients with complete cloud management and governance capabilities.

Bain & Company signing a strategic partnership with Trinity Life Sciences to bring together the two companies’ expertise, resources and capabilities in order to create a more comprehensive approach to addressing health care system challenges.

Another example would be Deloitte and Creatio announcing a strategic partnership to enable more businesses worldwide in order to access the full potential of no-code tools.

Quick Round-up

While examining the question, of how profoundly AI would impact the consulting industry, we must acknowledge the fact that AI is already revolutionizing the way data is garnered and analyzed by consultants.

The way consulting and AI intersect one another today indicates a clear trend — firms are using AI with an aim of improving their performance. In the coming days, it is expected that consulting firms will be using AI even more for projects that require a lot of data and analysis.

So, we can safely conclude that AI would trigger the evolution of the consultancy sector, helping it generate reliable insights while automating a significant part of the process. That does not mean that the replacement of human skills and knowledge is going to happen anytime soon.

Nevertheless, moving forward, AI may play a more critical role in automating complex decisions or assisting consultants to arrive at a decision to optimize value from the consulting spend. But there are no signs of its happening in the immediate future. It may take another 50 years for AI to become a disruptive force of that magnitude, as our co-founder and chairman, Laurent Thomas put it.

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Helene Laffitte

Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting. To find out more, visit the blog or contact her directly.

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