Darwin may have addressed the natural world, but his insights still offer some valuable lessons in business.
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and how businesses are adapt to this new technological development provides a great example of Neo-Darwinism at work in today’s corporate landscape.
AI is on the march – within the next two years, AI services will have cannibalised revenues for a third of market leaders, according to Gartner. For those that trade in consultancy and relationship-building, it’s easy to dismiss the impact of AI, and easy to assume that headlines such as, ‘Will a robot take my job?’ are for manual, blue-collar workers to worry about.
However, this is a dangerous point of view to adopt. Simply because the speed at which information is now consumed and synthesised by AI far surpasses any human capacity, and is becoming more sophisticated every week – evidenced recently by the AI that defeated six of the best human poker players to win a £230,000 prize.
For professional services firms which proudly guard (and sell) their knowledge and accumulated experience, the democratising effects of AI could theoretically undermine their entire business model; empowering the average consumer with quantifiable research and actionable data that far outweigh any advice a professional adviser could provide. This is particularly true on the lower end of the value curve, where robotic process automation (RPA) is already replacing the work that humans once did on certain processes.
AI in action
The legal sector provides a great example of this, since much of the work performed revolves around sifting through documents, contracts and cases, which are a prime target for automation. Companies like LawGeex, with their ambition to automate the entire legal industry, offer a vision of the future for all professional services.
LawGeex’ AI-based service allows users to upload a contract and points out any clauses which don’t meet common legal standards. The report also automatically details any vital clauses that could be missing, and where existing clauses might require revision.
These sorts of tools may not be the preferred option for most legal needs at this point – it’s reasonable to assume that customers wouldn’t rely on it for expensive contracts – yet the technology that underpins it is rapidly maturing. It may not be long until AI can even outperform a human lawyer.
A tipping point?
AI has arguably already had its tipping point in the public consciousness, illustrated by our familiarity with having conversations with our phones, computers or in-home assistants like Amazon Alexa.
As examples such as LawGeex demonstrate, AI is silently stealing a march on every industry it’s exposed to. AI-driven solutions are increasingly commonplace in wealth management, for example, where three of the world’s top five brokerages rely on an AI solution for data analysis. AI is also a natural fit for the data-centric insurance industry, where its capacity for simulation modelling and data analysis from a range of different sources makes it invaluable to underwriters.
Elsewhere, AI can power predictive maintenance and self-monitoring technologies for manufacturers which can save billions. Although real-world examples may still be thin on the ground, the tipping point from theory to practice is fast approaching – evidenced by the large investments made by Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM, which acquired over 20 AI firms in the last year alone.
Evolve or die
Highly empowered and enlightened consumers are more in control of the buying journey than ever before and by 2020, it’s estimated that customers will manage 85% of their enterprise relationships without interacting with humans.
It might appear at face value that the professional services industry is heading for collapse – after all, what’s the point of employing humans to do a job that AI can do more accurately, efficiently and quickly? This however, isn’t entirely correct, rather we’re heading towards a point where we as professionals will simply need to become more innovative if we’re to keep offering value.
A fundamental rethink is required; while we’re still some way off seeing the real impact of AI, business leaders need to be prepared to implement technology and processes that reengineer the way organisations have traditionally operated. And AI may well unlock new business processes that might not have been available before, inadvertently offering new value to a professional services firm.
AI could replace much of the ‘bread-and-butter’ tasks, providing an opportunity for organisations to offer new services on top of them, such as more informed face-to-face legal counsel.
At the most basic level, applying AI to certain processes can free up the time of an organisation’s executives, allowing them to concentrate on higher value tasks. Ultimately, without putting these measures in place, it’s hard to see much of a future for the professional services industry as the advancing AI revolution continues apace.
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