Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been affecting and disrupting many industries across the world. Many consider it to be the next industrial revolution, which is no small feat.
This is why it’s only natural for many to believe that Artificial Intelligence will disrupt their industry as well. Many welcome this disruption, but many also fear it as it might replace them. The same thing can be said about management consultants. There is increasing speculation that AI might replace us eventually.
How possible is this? Can Artificial Intelligence really replace management consultants? Let’s see the real answer to this important question:
What Is AI Doing to the Industry?
Before we determine whether Artificial Intelligence can replace a management consultant, we must first understand what AI is doing to our industry.
Artificial Intelligence and consulting are already overlapping. The famous McKinsey firm has acquired an Artificial Intelligence business called QuantumBlack in 2015. They work with AI to improve organizational performance. More specifically, they do it with the help of big data and advanced analytics. This is essentially good news, as McKinsey is successfully using Artificial Intelligence technology to improve their consulting services. This is good for the profession as a whole.
However, many independent AI firms are trying to develop different technologies. Their primary focus is to make AI-powered software that will, in some ways, replace management consultants. And true, there are large parts of our work that can be made much more efficient with better access to data and better information for decision making. In my own practice we are looking at digitizing much of the work that was previously labour intensive. This is, again, good for the profession as it means we can add even more value to clients at lower costs.
AI Can Help Management Consultants
In the Utopian future all work will be replaced by machines and we, the humans of the day, can live a life of leisure expanding our minds through the pursuit of arts and advancement of knowledge. When that day comes to pass AI will replace management consultants, just as AI will replace each and every job on the planet. But that is a very long ways away, if it ever comes to pass!
So what about the near future; the next 10 – 20 years?
The reality is that developers are trying to create AI that will assist consultants, just as they do with AI for many other complex industries.
Artificial Intelligence , machine learning, and many other technologies and techniques are attempting to give us easy-to-obtain answers about almost any question imaginable. However, they are not here to offer the same specialized advice that only a highly experienced management consultant can provide. The technology simply cannot achieve this.
To date, and for the foreseeable future, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are doing an increasingly good job of sifting through huge amounts of data to make comparisons and come back with a prediction. Take for example, the medical ‘bots’. You can plug in all of your symptoms. The Artificial Intelligence looks through all of the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of cases with the same symptoms, and based on other data about you that it has, can predict the disease you may have. And I stress the words, “may have”. AI has huge advantages that we do not have. It has access to huge amounts of data that a human could never access in a timely way. It never forgets. And it keeps on learning – the more cases the better the predictions. But here is the point. They are still predictions. The predictions are made in a linear way, based on linear data. There are always a finite number of possible predictions because the Artificial Intelligence is accessing vast, but non-finite data source.
This is comparable to work that is proceduralized. The work can be extremely complicated, but it can be mapped, and documented, and decision trees can be created. The person doing the work, with training, can follow the procedure.This is the type of work that lends itself to AI, as the Artificial Intelligence can follow the decision trees and arrive at the best solution, with comparisons to previous solutions, so that the outcome fast and as accurate or more-so than the work of a human. This can be a huge aid to management consultants who can map their processes and create procedures.
There is also the whole field of augmented intelligence. That is here now. We all carry in our hands or on our person a huge database of knowledge. I no longer have to remember phone numbers, birthdays, anniversaries or addressees. If I want to go somewhere I can have an instant map with turn by turn directions, and traffic warnings with suggestions for the best route. All I have to do is say “Hey Google” and ask the question. You may ask Siri or Alexa, but the results are the same. Almost limitless knowledge. As management consultants we leverage this every day, but we need to get better at building it into our methodologies.
Where Artificial Intelligence and augmented knowledge do not fare as well is when the problem to be solved required a diagnostic problem solving capability. This is work where the facing problem cannot be solved with a procedure. Think of the comparison: how do I repair this truck vs should we use trucks for our logistics solutions.The repair question, no matter how complex the breakdown, can be solved with Artificial Intelligence . And the Artificial Intelligence can learn in terms of what, when and how often to service the truck to avoid future breakdowns. But can an Artificial Intelligence tell you whether, for your business, having your own truck fleet is the best solution? For sure with our augmented intelligence we can access huge amount s of data to help with the decision. But deceiving your best costumer delivery solution requires a diagnostic capability to choose form an infinitive array of potential solutions and approaches. There is no one right answer. There is only the best answer for you in this situation given the environment, your customer base, your business model and your strategy.
This is whether the diagnostic capability of the management consultant adds real value to clients. It cannot be replaced with Artificial Intelligence , it can only be augmented buy AI.
Artificial Intelligence can and will change our industry. However, the disruption will be mostly in how AI will be of assistance to us, rather than replace us.
In time, management consultants will have more and better access to information – it will be the job of Artificial Intelligence to collect and access this for us. Consultants will be there to make sense of the information the Artificial Intelligence gathers and automates. Artificial Intelligence will be, as it already is, a tool that will help us do our jobs better. It will not be there to replace us.
All in all, Artificial Intelligence won’t replace management consultants, nor will it completely take many other complex jobs and cause a human workforce to become obsolete. However, there will be dramatic shifts as industry evolves. As Artificial Intelligence technologies become available, they will increasingly displace work that can be mapped and made into procedures. We will have to learn how to leverage these tools to provide better, more advanced services to our clients. We will also have to learn how to help our clients deal with and adapt these technologies into their organizations.
If you want to learn more or share your opinion, feel free to reach out.