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AI could threaten consulting firms

News, 25 July 2017
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CAMBRIGE, MA: From chatbots handling routine customer service inquiries to high-powered strategic consultancy work, there are few business areas immune from the advance of artificial intelligence.

Writing on the Harvard Business Review site, Barry Libert, chairman of machine learning business Open Matters, and his colleague Megan Beck, note that corporate leaders are already starting to use artificial intelligence to automate mundane tasks such as calendar maintenance and making phone calls.

And they expect that, in future, AI will inform decisions in more complex areas up to and including corporate strategy.

UBS already uses Amazon’s Alexa to answer clients’ questions on certain financial and economic matters using information provided by the bank’s investment office and that approach will become increasingly common, the authors suggest.

“A great deal of what is paid for with consulting services is data analysis and presentation,” Libert and Beck note. And while consultants are good at gathering, cleaning, processing and interpreting data from disparate parts of organizations, AI is even better.

“The processing power of four smart consultants with excel spreadsheets is miniscule in comparison to a single smart computer using AI running for an hour, based on continuous, non-stop machine learning,” they observe.

“Perhaps sooner than we think, CEOs could be asking, ‘Alexa, what is my product line profitability?’ or ‘Which customers should I target, and how?’ rather than calling on elite consultants.

Harley Davidson has already deployed AI to determine where it should be spending its marketing budget – and increased sales leads in New York by 2,930% as a result.

“It is only a matter of time until they and others ask, ‘Alexa, where should I spend my marketing budget?’’’

In the same vein, they argue, AI can also bring greater clarity to annual budgeting processes, by tracking the return on investments by business unit, or by measuring how much is allocated to growing versus declining product lines.

“Business leaders may soon be asking, ‘Alexa, what percentage of my budget is allocated differently from last year?’ and more complex questions.”

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by WARC staff

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