Five factors for a successful AI strategy in consulting

09 September 2019 Consultancy.uk

AI will change the consulting industry, helping deliver quicker, more accurate insights to clients, while reducing costs. Introducing the new technology can be easier said than done however, and firms should bear in mind five key factors if they are to succeed in their transformations.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are disrupting businesses across the globe. As these new technologies develop, many companies are increasingly thinking about integrating AI or at least automation into their operations. The consulting industry is no different, and AI is already revolutionising the way consultants explore data, among a number of other aspects of their work.

Beyond helping consultants to crunch numbers quicker, it can also improve the accuracy of their analysis, to give better insights to clients. This will allow for major improvements to internal operations, and as a result, staff will have more free time to concentrate on value adding tasks. With this in mind, consultants simply cannot afford to miss this bandwagon – and will forfeit their place at the forefront of consulting if they fail to embrace technology now.

In order to help firms facilitate AI transformation programmes, Consultancy.uk has outlined five topics consulting partners should consider when drafting their own internal AI strategy.

How consulting firms can adopt Artificial Intelligence

Pro-active planning

As many as 70% of companies will adopt at least one form of AI by 2030, and according to McKinsey & Company analysis, AI technologies could lead to a performance gap between front-runners, those who scramble to keep up, and those who simply reject the technology. The cumulative change per company could be as much as 122% for early adopted, compared to just 10% among followers, or -23% among the non-adopters. Should consultancies fall prey to exceptionalism, believing their industry will not be disrupted by new machinery and business models, they will be in for a rude awakening then.

Instead, firms must be pro-active, and identify at the earliest opportunity where there is a business case for AI enabling and augmenting their offerings. This is not to say consultants should invest in the technology for fear of missing out, but should work to identify where AI solutions will have the quickest and most decisive impact in the firm’s internal operations. Ultimately, this will have a major impact on the capabilities of the workforce to concentrate on the human aspects of persuasion, motivation, and coaching which are the major areas of value added by consulting.

Invest in capabilities

Consultancies cannot afford to scamp on investing in their AI efforts. This is a two-fold commitment, consisting of the more obvious aspect of investing in technology, but arguably more importantly, of investing in people. Either organically or through mergers and acquisitions, consulting firms must enhance the human element of their AI offering if they are to succeed.

Leadership from the top is essential to a successful AI implementation, and if a consultancy’s board does not have independent directors who understand AI and platform business models, changes may be doomed to failure. Firms should therefore seek to recruit new digitally savvy leaders to boards and C-suite. At the same time, in the broader firm, consultancies should look to launch an AI service line. This would enable them to bring on board data scientists and AI experts to both develop AI offerings which will yield new clients, and make sure AI is properly embedded throughout the rest of the consultancy.

Partnerships

To make the most of AI as soon as possible, firms do not have time to implement a trial-and-error learning process. No consulting firm can magically develop AI expertise internally – external forces are always going to be needed to teach and rapidly up-skill the workforce. If a firm is looking to implement AI at pace, partnering with a firm well-placed to help that occur can therefore make all the difference.

All consulting firms can benefit from data science

Just as consulting firms have increasingly promoted partnerships where they share the risks and rewards of a project with a client, this can yield a rapid and relatively low-cost fix to a consulting firm’s initial lack of AI capabilities. The key is to look outwards to augment the consultancy’s skills set, so firms should explore the AI tech landscape to see what is available, before striking partnerships with firms that can add to their offering.

Train all consultants on opportunities

Using the new talent brought on board by hiring campaigns, M&A activity, and partnerships to buy firms some breathing space in the short-term, consultancies should look to use that leeway to quickly train their native workforce. While AI consultants will always be needed to specialise in the matter, the future of the industry will see AI skills become essential for all manner of work in some aspect.

All consultants can benefit from data science, as clients increasingly see data as the new gold. Using AI will allow them to better leverage their teams for impact. Ultimately, new training of staff to teach them how to take advantage of AI can help them spend less time having to clean data and build analytics models, while focusing wholly on influencing business leaders and helping them change their firms.

Monitor and market

Like any aspect of transformation, keeping tabs on the impacts of AI change is vital to make sure consultancies are moving in the right direction. While AI has clear benefits, its effects are not always material or tangible without monitoring its performance. As such, it is important to keep an eye on AI investments. Firms should look at the spending on AI solutions to see what value they add to their firm, while feeding their findings back into a constantly evolving strategy. This will also help firms to demonstrate the effectiveness of a firm’s AI offering to clients.

This feeds into helping position a consulting firm as a perceived AI expert with clients. Thought leadership can also help with this, as can the branding of a separate label within a company, such as McKinsey Digital, or BCG Gamma. This helps define towards clients how AI offerings sit within a consulting firm, and is a distinct field of specialism present in the organisation.


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