Inside the consulting industry's race to become AI rainmakers
- Big consulting companies are racing to add to their offerings around artificial intelligence.
- The push comes as their clients have questions about how to incorporate AI into their business.
Artificial intelligence didn't write this sentence.
But it could have. And it's going to do a lot more, eventually. That's the bet consulting companies have been making as they rush to build out their generative AI offerings.
Heavyweights from Accenture to McKinsey to PriceWaterhouseCoopers want to not only use AI to boost their own productivity — they want to be able to help clients do the same.
"AI in general, and generative AI more particularly, is the shiny object that everybody's chasing," Mohanbir Sawhney, associate dean of digital innovation at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, told Insider. "And when clients chase shiny objects, consultants chase clients. So they're not far behind."
It's been not quite a year since the public release of OpenAI's ChatGPT made GenAI the hot new technology. With it came promises — and pitfalls.
To help companies figure out how to use AI, the consulting giants are racing to scoop up companies that specialize in the technology. They're also looking to hire people with the right expertise and to train existing workers.
Sawhney said many consulting firms are building dedicated AI units to help concentrate talent and generate ideas that play to companies' strengths. Deloitte has set up a center to focus on AI, while McKinsey held onto the name QuantumBlack, a company McKinsey acquired in 2015, to concentrate its AI offerings.
Consulting firms' push to bulk up on AI comes as many workers are worried that AI bots will snatch their jobs. Yet in the world of consulting, firms have indicated they plan to bring on more workers to keep up with their clients' interests in AI. Accenture has said it plans to double its AI workforce to about 80,000 people. That will involve hiring workers, acquiring companies, and instructing existing employees.
Demand for AI skills is high. On LinkedIn, the number of global English-language job postings that mention artificial intelligence technologies is up 21 times from November 2022, when ChatGPT debuted, a LinkedIn spokesperson said in an email to Insider.
And yet not all AI hiring at consulting firms will necessarily involve technical skills.
The big firms, Sawhney said, will need people who are conversant enough in the technology to spell out the business value of AI and convince a Fortune 500 CEO to spend perhaps millions on an AI project with a consulting company. "They need AI rainmakers," he said.
Sawhney said part of what makes the GenAI explosion different from earlier tech waves like the ecommerce surge that came two decades ago is the breadth and speed of the arrival of AI. That's forcing organizations to scale up at a pace they're not used to, he said.
Here's a look at some of what some big professional-services companies are doing around AI.
KPMG said over the summer it would invest $2 billion into AI over five years as part of an effort with Microsoft.
Steve Chase, who runs a new AI and digital innovation group at KPMG US, previously told Insider the task he's been assigned is to transform KPMG US through the systematic adoption of AI, analytics, and other emerging tech.
"We have the ability to be much faster and much more comprehensive using these tools to put knowledge in the hands of someone who needs it to be able to solve a business problem," Chase said. One way people will remain essential, he said, is to ensure the information and recommendations AI produces have merit.
EY said in September it had invested $1.4 billion in AI — on technology it uses with its clients and on tech acquisitions. As part of that 18-month effort, the company said it had created its own large-language model and that it will train all of its 400,000 workers on AI.
A spokesperson told Insider in mid-September that more than 5,000 EY workers had begun training.
EY said it has created a platform that helps clients add AI into their workflows. It includes a chatbot focused on payroll that the company said will answer complex worker questions. There are other functions to help clients in areas like managing data and using predictive analytics, the company said.
PwC said in April it would spend $1 billion over three years to boost its AI offerings and help clients incorporate GenAI. PwC has also said it plans to train 75,000 workers in the US and Mexico on artificial intelligence.
"We want all of our people to be skilled on AI enough that they can have a conversation with the client — whether or not you're an associate or an experienced partner — so that you can identify opportunities for us to be able to go in and support that client and that AI transformation, as well as to be able to support the firm itself," Shannon Schuyler, US chief purpose and inclusion officer at PwC, previously told Insider.
Accenture said in June it plans to invest $3 billion over three years into its data and AI group aimed at helping clients use the technology to boost growth, efficiency, and resilience.
Accenture said it would double its AI talent to 80,000 workers through a mix of hiring, training, and acquisitions. The company's data and AI group plans to develop services and off-the-shelf models for companies in 19 industries. Accenture also introduced a GenAI tool designed to help clients make decisions around AI.
Bain & Company in February said it had struck a services agreement with ChatGPT parent OpenAI. Bain said that in the prior year it had added OpenAI technology into its knowledge-management systems, research, and processes in order to increase efficiency.
Boston Consulting Group is working with OpenAI as part of a broader effort around AI. In December, BCG said it had created BCG X, a tech build and design division. BCG X includes nearly 3,000 technologists, scientists, programmers, engineers, and "human-centered designers" in some 80 cities.
The investments in AI at BCG and elsewhere could help an unlikely group: consultants who rank below average. A recent study conducted at BCG found that below-average consultants drew more benefit from AI than did higher-ranked consultants.
The study, which involved 758 BCG consultants globally, found that below-average performers who used AI saw their average performance jump by 43% in a test involving a fictional client company compared with a 17% gain for their above-average colleagues.
Deloitte announced in April it had started a new practice aimed at focusing on generative AI. That same month, Deloitte introduced a set of services called Quartz AI to help clients use technology like GenAI. In addition, the company has a GenAI partnership with the chip giant Nvidia. The Quartz AI services use Nvidia platforms.
Deloitte said in August it's investing more than $2 billion in global technology training efforts to increase skills in areas including AI.
In 2015, McKinsey acquired a company called QuantumBlack. McKinsey adopted the QuantumBlack name for its AI offerings. The company has a research center called QuantumBlack Labs, which is focused on AI and machine learning; its goal is to support more than 1,300 data scientists in more than 50 locations.
The company in June said it was introducing a series of AI-development tools called QuantumBlack Horizon to help organizations use AI.
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