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Owning the Future – Managing the Present: When Consulting Returns to the Roots

written by CEO Charles-Edouard Bouée

Rolandberger Jan Voth

We are now fully aware that AI will be the cornerstone of companies' transformation in the coming years. Between August 2016 and August 2017, when the AI hype just started to surge, the expression "Artificial Intelligence" was used in 67% of investor presentations, according to Bloomberg figures! In 2017 already, 30 billion dollars were invested in Artificial Intelligence worldwide. However, in 2019, almost 3 years later, we still need to fully grasp the subject and get ready for it. As a matter of fact, only 20% of companies have so far rolled out efficient AI solutions. As the AI market is said to reach 200 billion dollars in the coming 10 years, thus reshaping industries and job descriptions as a whole, companies must anticipate these transformations if they do not want to be left behind.

A silent revolution

If the implementation of Artificial Intelligence is indeed a revolution, it is a silent one. Rather than being a sudden transformation, the implementation of AI will be aligned with the automation companies have been undergoing for more than 30 years now. This tendency is confirmed by the study conducted by Roland Berger and Asgard in the spring of 2018 with 3,500 AI startups around the world: 70% of AI startups in Europe are developing B2B solutions. AI has been evolving and machines can now take on skills that were previously considered the preserve of humans: language, reasoning, judgment or decision-making. In 10 years' time, we will certainly see the rise of "augmented workers", with companies moving up a notch with the development of personal and efficient portable AI that will allow each collaborator to take their work to the next level.

In order to prepare ourselves for this transformation, we need to grasp the overall impacts of this AI shift on both our clients and their organizations. Driven by AI, companies are taking on new forms. Job descriptions will be thoroughly redefined, especially for white-collar workers, and in the AI era, marketing will become the work of the data scientist. In this ever-changing environment, what specific training programs, recruitment methods and managerial processes should be implemented? The company of the future will encompass highly qualified, innovative and autonomous colleagues working on the core activities that add value to the company. More and more often, skills will be outsourced to external service providers, thus creating job opportunities outside the parent company. This will be the case with the development and implementation of the AI solutions themselves, for instance. Companies will work as ecosystems, with partners working horizontally together.

Consultants will be augmented by AI, not replaced

Confronted by such tremendous changes, and reflecting what they did at the time of the digital transformation, consulting firms will mutate. Information technology was a first upheaval in our job. Used to sketching their findings on paper, consultants adapted with pleasure to IT, which allowed them to design slides themselves. This marked a colossal change for us, reshaping the way we hierarchized information and presented our assessments. Then the Internet turned things upside down a second time, giving clients easy access to a significant mass of information. We thus had to concentrate on providing them with the best strategic recommendations stemming from this information rather than supplying them with the relevant data. In tomorrow's world, all consultants will be equipped with their own personal AI, which will be able to collect and analyze data in order to autonomously propose adequate recommendations. This is what I call the "augmented consultant". When this day comes, consulting firms will adapt as they do, taking on the necessary differentiating values in a world of augmented machines: boldness, creativity, empathy and situational intelligence. They need to provide their clients with food for thought, and not only solutions. For instance, this is what we are pursuing through our corporate magazine, Think:Act.

But, even more fundamentally at a time of technological growth, consultants will be required to reshape their clients' strategic priorities, encouraging them to use their most valuable asset: imagination. The speed of technological innovation deters companies from formulating adequate projections. Bound by uncertainty, we should nevertheless imagine the futures we long for and organize today's work according to these goals. Consulting firms are adopting new tools. Clients are now presented with immersive scenarios through "design fiction", scenarios among which they can choose their future path rather than bend to the flow of frenetic change. Virtual and augmented realities are also the new game-changers of our job, allowing us to imagine new products and services in a world where each and every citizen is equipped with portable AI. This is what we are currently developing at Roland Berger as part of our value proposition.

"Own the future, manage the present" must now be the consultant's motto. We are actually returning to the roots of consulting's added value: equipped with new energies, we give substance to the future by challenging the present. In the era of Artificial Intelligence, this is the bet we make.

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This post was sponsored by Roland Berger, No. 4 in the 2019 Vault Consulting 25 Europe ranking.