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Can the management consulting profession survive AI?

Although it has been around since 1956, artificial intelligence is enjoying* an unprecedented level of attention. At CMCE we make no apologies for continuing to join in the fun as the recent exponential growth of generative AI applications (ChatGPT, GPT4, Bard etc) poses an existential threat to all professions, management consulting included.

Or does it?

This was one of the questions addressed at The Professions’ Summit, an event I attended at Bayes Business School earlier this month organised by Professor Laura Empson. It was an illuminating conference that brought together professionals from sectors ranging from engineering and medicine to accounting and law, as well as academics with research interests in the area.

There’s no doubt that generative AI is already changing the way in which professional services are carried out through automating and simplifying complex analytical tasks and this trend can only increase. A number of speakers at the event raised the question of how professionals would serve an apprenticeship in future given that the “grunt work” frequently given to those at entry-level would disappear. This was suggested as a future topic for research – one we’d certainly be keen to see developed.

But will professions disappear as AI takes over, automating basic tasks at the outset then developing its own opinions and points of view, and finally even outsmarting humans at their own game? Well, calm down Neo and take a chill pill – it’s not happening just yet. Despite some coffee-break chat where someone I was talking to referred to AI researchers having discovered apparent “sparks” of sentience, the AI apps we’re seeing at the moment won’t solve complex problems that require judgement. One speaker referred to the difference between audit where automation could improve the quality of the work performed and the tax implications of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, where human input is definitely needed.

Consultancy is the same: we’re not facing an existential threat but the nature of the business will change and there are some difficult questions to address. Large scale delivery projects will become more competitive as automation provides opportunities for different pricing strategies – fees per day don’t apply to bots – but the market for wise advice will still exist.

The problem is that this wisdom – traditionally obtained by detailed work in a specialist area as an entry-level consultant – will be harder to get and its sources, now curated by big data applications with the potential bias, may be more suspect. Consulting – with its lack of widely-accepted professional standards – will have to think seriously about how it overcomes this credibility gap if it is to survive.


Nick Bush, Director, CMCE


* the author recognises that AI can’t enjoy anything – at least in the way that humans do.

Tuesday 19th September 2023
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