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Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Advisory Work?

Nov 28th 2016
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No doubt you’ve been hearing a bit lately about artificial intelligence (AI), but what relevance does AI and associated technologies have for business advisors, coaches, and professional service firms? Is AI a potential competitive advantage, just another distraction, or a replacement for the advisor over the coming years?

First, let’s look at the facts. Machine learning, cognitive computing, natural language processing, speech recognition, robotics ... the use of AI in business is accelerating, with the market expected to double from 2014 to $9.2 billion by 2019, according to IDC Worldwide Content Analytics, Discovery and Cognitive Systems Software Forecast 2015-2019.

AI is also not a new field or technology. With foundations in the 1940s, programmable computers inspired scientists to discuss the potential of electronic brains.

From a fledgling start, AI adoption in business is accelerating rapidly. For the first time, you no longer need to buy your own super computer to access the natural language recognition, processing power, and algorithms required to drive AI. Clever technology, such as IBM Watson or, is now readily and cheaply available via software as a service (SaaS) offerings, unleashing these technologies for millions worldwide.

Don’t Believe the Hype
Exciting new advisory technologies in an early adoption phase often elicit dramatic pronouncements of “the death of advisory” or “the death of professional service firms.” The reality is often completely the reverse, with level heads recognizing the technology as a powerful tool and potential (albeit transitory) competitive advantage.

What Can AI Do More Effectively?
Advisors need to reflect on what AI can really do more effectively rather than it being a direct substitute. Here’s a quick list of what AI can do better than an advisor:

  1. Respond lightning fast: AI doesn’t need to put clients on hold, write email replies, or queue at the airline check-in counter.
  2. Access an encyclopaedic memory: AI can understand and access thousands of business tools and processes.
  3. Stay awake: 24 x 7 x 365.
  4. Remember conversations: Track and analyze all conversations ever had with a customer for future learning.
  5. Analyze on the fly: Review data trends to predict future behavior.
  6. Continually learn and improve: From thousands of conversation patterns.

Dynamic Data: Advisors Win Hands Down
Critically, AI’s potential positive impact on the advisory industry depends heavily on the availability of quality data to drive algorithms, understand patterns, and predict actions.

Most advisors interact with data “mechanics” from dashboards, financials, and surveys to guide their growth, profit, and strategy work, a narrow lens to work with for AI. Mechanical data doesn’t capture intangible “dynamic” information; those things are harder for a machine to corral (but the “basics” for an effective advisor):

  1. Intuition: A feeling as to whether a customer can achieve their objectives.
  2. Political nous: Understanding the power plays and relationships within a business.
  3. Challenging: An ability to question direction and the vision of owners or managers.
  4. Reading the back story: What has been the track record of a business’ implementation success?
  5. Who’s who?: Identifying high achievers with time to invest on a project, the blockers, and those people it’s imperative to get “on side” to drive the team.
  6. Probability of change: The likelihood of the team to change their behaviors for a given time period.
  7. Culture: Identifying strategies with the biggest impact on buy-in from the team.
  8. Highlighting WIIFM (What’s in it for me?): The team’s appetite for achieving stated goals.

Without the ability to draw on dynamic information, AI or analytics in isolation draw a narrow view of the business. Conversely, an advisor relying on dynamic without mechanical data and associated insights can miss critical information required for driving growth. Big-picture “vision” sessions will be for nought if the business is hemorrhaging cash.

So, what’s the future relationship between business consultants, coaches, professional service firms, and AI?

AI technology will be another tool – facilitating and enhancing data analysis and sharing to improve productivity, enhance the quality of insights and outcomes for clients. There’s no replacement for a trusted business advisor who can translate insights and recommendations gleaned from the data into actionable strategies successfully implemented; a powerful combination.

In summary, advisory AI technology is useless without advisors, but advisors can greatly benefit from advisory AI technology.

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