By: Lyn McDonell

Spring 2019 Issue

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to have a significant impact on management consulting in the coming years. We can expect the impacts to be felt in two primary areas. One is on the competitive landscape, organizational value propositions, and processes of our clients. The other is on management consulting’s own practice methodologies and value offerings.

According to Jodie Wallis, Managing Director for Artificial Intelligence for Accenture in Canada, speaking on a panel for a Globe and Mail event April 11th, 2019, companies are pursuing AI to do four main things: to improve productivity (operations), to enhance the ability to forecast and predict with greater accuracy, for anomaly detection (identifying fraud, etc.) and in the development of new products and services. AI is moving in to the space of management consulting as an adjunct capability. As stated by a CMC industry leader to me on another occasion, in charge of the division of management consulting in her big firm, it’s not MBA graduates that her firm is especially looking for when recruiting new management consultants – it’s people who can help intersect AI and other promising technologies with organizational design.

If not today, most management consultants will need to be on top of AI tomorrow as an informed and up-to-date practitioner.

I recently attended a two-day workshop with Brian Lenahan, CEO of Aquitaine Innovation Advisors, who unpacked AI for a group of nine self-selected consultants keen to get their heads around the topic. The session began with some familiar applications of AI (Netflix, Alexa, WAZE) and less familiar applications of AI and how these illustrate some of the more common AI technologies: voice recognition, natural language processing, sentiment analysis, recommendations generation, and more.

Learning about the field of AI - what is machine learning vs. deep learning for example -- was the first layer but the course then took things to a more actionable agenda. How can businesses and organizations leverage AI to address real world business challenges? Solutions were elaborated in customer service, knowledge generation, research, and analysis. AI can help in strategic scanning, data ingestion and analysis, capture of meeting content, report writing, improved always-on customer service using chatbots for example, and the discovery of novel questions in data.

Individuals were encouraged to identify business issues in their own realm where AI solutions might be explored – and how they might get the ball rolling.

Questions can open up possibilities in this area. Interestingly the classic management consulting questions apply:

  • Where are the pain points?
  • What are the needs?
  • What capabilities does the business need to develop new opportunities?

We learned that introducing AI as either an IT project or a big “AI Strategy” will be less successful than starting small, linking to real business issues, and developing champions. 

AI is an area that can be intimidating and seemingly beyond the resources of many organizations. Fortunately cloud solutions are now available and we saw many in this survey course. We also learned that Canada has been, and is, a leader in AI.

Implementation of AI moves the organization from interested and aware to active and then beyond into greater integration into the culture, operations, and DNA of the organization. As the field grows, and companies take up these tools, there will be changes in the workforce including new roles as AI “explainers” and “sustainers” and yes, the displacement of certain types of workers and tasks. Progressive organizations will expect challenges and introduce AI in a responsible way having early conversations regarding how to transition employees for the next level of jobs arising given new capabilities.

At the close of the two-day learning, participants shared this to the group:

“I’m going to share on LinkedIn how I can use this knowledge to help my clients”

“I now believe that knowledge of AI will be a differentiating factor for a consultant.”

“There are practical applications of AI that weren’t there 2 to 3 years ago and this field will accelerate. If we don’t get in now the learning curve will be higher and more difficult later. I found the last two days incredibly valuable. I realized that I did indeed need to learn about AI.”

The changes ahead are profound. The field of artificial intelligence is accelerating fast. Today, according to a Deloitte Executive Study, only 16% of executives in Canada report using AI in their companies and only 4% of Canadians can explain it. This will change and fast as AI technologies are increasingly applied to solve practical issues. Management consultants need to “get in there” with the lens we have and offer what AI cannot: relationship, judgment, and creativity.

According to Max Tegmark, there is the Race for Wisdom. This is the race (gap really) between the growing power of technology and the growing wisdom with which we manage it. Technologies are accelerating so rapidly we have to develop our wisdom in advance “so that we can get things right the first time, because that might be the only time we’ll have.” This means ethics, choices and good policy.

The goal is not to stop going forward – that’s unrealistic – but being wise enough to proactively have made good choices in deployment and with policies and ways to respond in human terms if there are issues. In this challenge, management consultants can, will and must play a crucial role. 

Lyn McDonell is a governance, strategy and organizational effectiveness consultant. She is President of The Accountability Group, Inc., where she brings experience, skill, diplomacy, and commitment to every client organization in its unique context. Lyn is a Chartered Director (C. Dir) and a Certified Management Consultant (CMC). She is Past President of the Council of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario which confers the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation.