If you want to know the future of business consulting, just look to the firms and universities at the forefront of a revolution in technology and a transformation in recruiting. I write those words as both a means of advice to readers, and as an admonition to companies.
Far too many businesses are not ready for this change – too few are even aware that change is afoot – so preparing for this event is critical to the health of the economy and the expansion of the workforce as a whole. I refer, specifically, to the rise of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and the proliferation of big data.
According to Braden Kelley, an innovation and consulting expert, a good way to understand this shift is to review the key concepts presented in this image of The Knowledge Funnel, a concept Roger Martin introduced in his book The Design of Business.
“The power of artificial intelligence is the ability to move the role of the machine to the left in The Knowledge Funnel, away from pure manual coding by a human, to computer programs that write themselves and eventually to heuristic identification and algorithm creation at some point in the near future.”
In other words, consultants need to offer value that exceeds what technology will soon be able to do by itself. Those forces will upend the hiring process at the nation’s top business schools, save the MIT Sloan School of Management, which already emphasizes the importance of these phenomena.
Gone will be existing demand for the conventional B-school graduate, who is fluent in finance but not remotely conversant in technology. Gone will be the need for the traditional consultant, who delivers a report that is a restatement of the obvious – and stamps that presentation with the “prestige” of the logo of his employer.
Consider, too, that up to 40 percent of banking jobs in the United States could be lost to digital automation, as an executive at Citibank cautions. Compare that scenario to the one by the by online travel company Priceline, which asserts that 80 percent of its future customer contacts could involve absolutely no human interaction.
To further appreciate the gravity of this situation, bear in mind that these forecasts apply to the U.S. as much as they do to the United Kingdom – and the entire world. “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and is rewriting the rules of work. But it’s not just an issue for HR. The challenges mean that leaders right across the organization must find new ways to motivate, manage and engage the 21st-century workforce,” says Anne-Marie Malley, an authority on the topic of human capital.
It pays, therefore, to get a senior consultant’s perspective on this confluence of intellectual talent, technical skill and technological displacement. Nick Chini, managing partner of Bainbridge Consulting, told me, “The next major technology disruption will involve corporations – and they’re not ready for this degree of upheaval.” He went on to assert that artificial intelligence is far more impactful than the personal computer, the re-engineering wave of the 1990s or the commercialization of the internet. A.I., he said, will overtake markets and jobs, creating the most complex new economy in history.
“From labs at MIT to global tech firms that continue to harness this tool, artificial intelligence systems will soon extend to a variety of categories, such as education, retail, real estate, finance and the home. Data and analysis – in addition to the synthesis of the two – will assume new levels of productivity, efficiency and flexibility,” Chini said. And he is on the money, so to speak, regarding those who ignore – or choose to dismiss – the significance of this economic and technological milestone.
Consultants who anticipate – and adapt to – these changes will redefine their industry and relevance. These professionals will be crucial advisers, whose expertise companies would be smart to follow and even wiser to promote.
Welcome to the future.
Welcome to the new world of consulting.