The future is unknown to all of us and the only thing we can do is predict based on what we know and what history has shown us. IT consulting and consulting in general is part of the industries that are now evolving in different directions from what they were previously used to in the future. In my mind a traditional consultant is a very well-dressed person that charges a lot of money to just tell you something that is either hard to understand and implement after he/she is gone. The fact that consultants are just these ‘foreigners’ that try to understand the culture and people of the company in a short amount of time, make it even more difficult for them to blend in. How will companies in the future hire a consultant and how will the consultants offer advice?
The newest developments are already replacing the person I have in my mind when I think of a consultant with a machine. According to an article by Harvard Business Review (1), AI will replace consultants. Amazon’s Alexa is the newest consultant, which can now answer economic questions for clients of the Swiss global financial services company, UBS Group AG. According to the article, a new partnership between UBS Wealth Management and Amazon allows some of UBS’s European wealth-management clients to ask Alexa certain financial and economic questions. Alexa will then answer their queries with the information provided by UBS’s chief investment office without even having to pick up the phone or visit a website. And this is likely just Alexa’s first step into offering business services. Alexa does exactly what a consultant does -gathers data and analyzes them, but in a more efficient way, cheaper and unbiased. HBR mentions that the business consultants specialized in strategy, capital allocation, human management will very soon be replaced by AI as machine learning will decrease the gathering time of the data and analyzing, as it takes less than an hour for a ‘smart-machine’ to go through unstructured data and provide a detailed report, based on which you can make a decision. As mentioned above, AI will decrease the research time, will increase the effectiveness of the research as it will be able to determine patterns and even provide safer solutions and those are some of the reasons why a company in Hong-Kong hired an algorithm (2) as their board member. The algorithm will help them make a decision on whether they should make an investment or not only by analyzing data.
On the other hand, we have to remember that machines will do what we tell them and if the data entered into the system is biased then we cannot have an unbiased decision. Also, a machine does not have feelings. If it’s hard for a company to accept a strategy from a human who knows them and can understand them, then it would be even more difficult for a first-line worker to accept a decision from a machine that doesn’t know him at all. So, all it can do is help us with doing the boring/repetitive tasks for us. When we’re freed from menial work, the world slows down around us. We have more time to strategize, relate with clients, and optimize our processes to increase productivity and get a greater return on investment. Our power of creativity cannot be taken away from us from the machines because we have the power of thinking, of creating new things without the need of having someone program us. However, even though AI might not fully replace us, it will change the way we do business.
How can a consultant ‘survive’ in this new era? As mentioned above, business consultants are highly affected by automation, but there will be consultants that will thrive in this digital era and those are the IT consultants. They play a crucial role in moving the companies toward the digitalization trend. New challenges, new client needs, and demands require more, however. From all of the skills required by consultants, I believe innovative mindset, strong judgment skills, technical expertise, and social ability are the most important skills needed in the future. The only element that will differentiate a consultant from a machine is the ability to make innovative decisions that have never been made in the future and that cannot be predicted by machines. The consultant will help the company make the final decision and judge all of their options. Where in traditional management consulting advanced knowledge of industries was king, now the ability to leverage insights to redefine experiences and reinvent business models using data, digital and cloud technologies reign. If you want to provide value to clients then provide data and technological capabilities. We should not forget that Google has empowered clients and they need information from the consultant that they cannot find in Google. Besides giving the hiring company the power to ‘fact check’ the data you provide through a search engine, they now know how to better evaluate the consultant’s success rate, as they can better understand problems thanks to all this information. So, a consultant has to think out of the box and provide rapid innovation and agile cycles. Another element is the fact of having a broad set of skills. If until now IT consultants weren’t able to talk and understand business consultants or vice-versa, now they have to become one. That means -the consultant understands business and technology and bridges the gap between strategy and technology — essentially see the capabilities, technologies, products, and services out there — and be able to apply them to business problems. But, above all the consultant has to gain the trust of the company by being human.
All in all, consulting is changing and might even be completely transformed by AI and machine learning, but as machines cannot yet think as us then all we can do is suppress them by becoming more innovative and not following patterns. Consulting firms are trying to transform clients while undergoing simultaneous transformations themselves. However, the consulting firms have the resources and time to gather data from various resources and make decisions for clients, while they try to adjust to the digitalization trend themselves. To be able to stay in the market, the consulting company has to have the innovation for the client and be one step forward for everything in the field they have expertise on. They have to be the experts and top Google otherwise nobody will pay money to find the same information that can be found free in a search engine. The workforce that will become the future consultants are in a tough race against the machines and may the best win.
(1)”AI May Soon Replace Even the Most Elite Consultants“, July 2017, Barry Libert, Megan Beck, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/07/ai-may-soon-replace-even-the-most-elite-consultants
(2) “A Venture Capital Firm Just Named An Algorithm To Its Board Of Directors — Here’s What It Actually Does“, March 2014, Rob Wile, Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/vital-named-to-board-2014-5