Whenever you mention the impact of automation on business, many people immediately think of a worst-case scenario where robots have taken over and humans are rendered useless.
But the reality, especially for professional services jobs, is looking far less adversarial. In fact, human ingenuity is increasingly leveraging automating forces like artificial intelligence (AI) in a kind of technological dance, each making the other better.
A 2018 report by PwC calls this joining of forces a “centaur.” They give the example that while AI can beat a world chess grandmaster, a human and AI playing as a team can usually beat an AI opponent. The report suggests that humans are very much in the driver’s seat, able to steer AI to automate processes and conduct research while freeing up employees to do higher-value work.
This new relationship is transforming the world of business.
AI-human tag teams
The shift to AI may be most dramatic in the consulting industry, where the dispensing of advice has traditionally been seen as human-centered.
After all, you pay consultants for their hard-won knowledge and experience, right? Well, not quite. You also pay them for their research capabilities. And that’s where AI and humans can act as the ultimate tag team.
A great example of this is Morgan Stanley’s Next Best Action, a machine learning platform that launched last year. This platform helps financial advisors by generating recommendations for their clients.
Let’s say you’re a financial advisor with dozens of clients. A year ago, a client expressed interest in an obscure stock, which you told him to hold back on. If that obscure stock suddenly came into some good news or was upgraded by the firm, the machine learning platform could instantaneously generate a recommendation for that client based on past interactions. Then you, as the advisor, would see the recommendation and promptly give the client a call.
How’s that for attentive one-on-one client service?
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Less time on information-gathering, more time on analysis
AI makes it possible to review and assimilate mounds of information in a matter of seconds. And as Digitalist Magazine points out, that has major implications for law firms.
For example, firms that deal in mergers and acquisitions, licensing, or other corporate transactions regularly conduct what’s called a “contract due diligence review.” This is when lawyers analyze the risks and liabilities within a proposed contract by reviewing thousands of similar contracts and flagging important comparisons and differences.
Even with today’s advanced search tools, it’s still a human doing the searching. But AI has the potential to change that. As the article states: “AI software, having been trained on previously vetted documents and their nominal language, can compare the current document with all that it was previously trained on and determine where anomalies occur, thereby reducing the attorney’s analysis time.”
Note that in this scenario, AI is not replacing the attorney; it’s merely acting as the world’s most effective and efficient legal researcher.
Shifting employee work focus
Imagine a self-driving car rolling down the highway, giving its passenger time to think about what strategic advice she will provide her client at their upcoming meeting. The car is doing the menial work, giving the professional more time for higher-level thinking.
Soon, the same dynamic will start to play out everywhere.
Take Botkeeper as an example. Botkeeper is a platform that automates common bookkeeping workflows. The app, which was the 2018 winner of the Tech Madness competition in Boston, essentially puts tedious manual data entry on autopilot, thus freeing up accounting professionals to focus more on client communication and strategy. Venture capitalist Kellan Carter, an investor in the company, recently called this type of automation the “human-AI sweet spot.”
Rethinking workforce strategy
PwC’s more recent report says that out of the 1,000 U.S. businesses surveyed, 20 percent plan to implement AI across their organization in 2019.
Consequently, the report recommends that these businesses adopt a workforce strategy that focuses on bridging the gap between non-AI professionals and AI technology. These “AI citizen users” need training on how to use AI applications, how to support data management, and when to leverage expert help.
Businesses implementing AI solutions should also have a more specialized group of “power users” who can work side-by-side with AI specialists to develop new automated processes. As a final piece of this new workforce strategy, the report recommends having a smaller contingent of data scientists who can handle the more specialized work behind AI applications.
Humans and technology are the dream team
Technology has long been helping professionals work more effectively, from capturing new business through web to lead forms to using mobile CRM software to access client data on the go. After all, when you have great people and you give them great tools, productivity and outcomes are all but guaranteed to improve.
AI is simply the next step on this technological journey. The dance between humans and AI is currently playing out in all aspects of professional services, and it will take some time to develop a steady rhythm. But for the time being, at least, it seems like humans are still the lead partner.