Adapting service and consultancy businesses to the boom in AI use [Q&A]

As more companies look to embrace AI technology, professional services and consultancy providers must make sure they're ready to help their customers respond to the opportunities that it presents. Indeed, professional services teams also need to look at how using AI in their own organizations can help them to adapt as well.

But how can they ensure that they take full advantage of what is on offer, and not just fall foul of the latest hyped technology trend? We spoke to Andy Campbell, director, solutions marketing at Certinia, to find out.

BN: What areas of business offer the greatest opportunities for introducing AI?

AC: For services companies, there are many business areas that stand to benefit immensely from deploying AI solutions. These include finance and accounting, resource and project management, sales, and client services. Some examples include:

  • Finance and accounting: Accurate cash flow forecasting is essential for finance leaders to make informed decisions, plan for the future, and keep the lights on. AI provides finance teams with the ability to determine cash flow patterns based on historical data and market trends. It can be used to predict which customers will pay their bills on time, which other customers will likely pay late, and suggest strategies to address the issue. This information enables companies to manage their finances far more effectively and avoid putting themselves in a situation where they run out of money.
  • Project management and resource management: Every professional services business aspires to the concept of intelligent staffing and the optimal utilization of resources. AI offers the potential for improvements within the resource management process that go way beyond mere automation. It enables the smarter allocation of human capital, leveraging data to match the right skills with the right project at the right time. It can predict future needs for specific roles and skills by analyzing historical and operational data to more effectively and proactively match capacity with demand. Additionally, by analyzing ongoing project data, AI can provide real-time insights into service delivery and project margins to suggest why they might be going off track. This immediate feedback allows project managers to adjust strategies on the fly, ensuring projects stay on time and within budget.
  • Sales and client services: The transition from sales to service is often fraught with issues, and AI can be used to provide a more seamless experience, utilizing existing customer data to draft tailored success plans, ensuring each client receives a strategy aligned with their specific needs and goals. Additionally, it can aid in swiftly creating objectives and selecting effective playbooks, all within a streamlined and efficient framework. This will result in improved customer satisfaction, greater operational efficiency, and higher renewal rates.

BN: How can organizations identify where introducing AI will be most beneficial?

AC: The key for any successful AI deployment is to clearly focus on a specific business need with a tangible outcome and ensure that AI does not fall into the trap of being just another vanity project. Companies should take a pragmatic approach because there is clear evidence of emerging use cases that will help services businesses gain a competitive edge by optimizing the key business metrics sitting below key profitability priorities: CSAT, NPS, and Gross or Project Margin.

Pragmatic AI takes a low-risk approach to AI implementation, one that looks to address real, tangible business problems rather than aspirational or flashy use cases. To start, businesses should take inventory of the problem, identify the most important challenges they face and then look for solutions that help solve them. By focusing on projects with a clear ROI and tangible benefits, organizations can showcase progress and justify further investment.

BN: What impact might AI have on the workforce and what can be done to allay concerns?

AC: While AI can significantly enhance efficiency, it must be deployed responsibly, especially in areas requiring high personalization. The goal is to complement human expertise with AI's analytical power -- not to replace the human element. The goal should be to create a harmonious partnership that leverages AI's analytical power to enhance human judgment and creativity. Transparent communication, upskilling initiatives, and responsible AI deployment are the keys to alleviating workforce concerns.

BN: How important is it to incorporate AI into the overall strategy of the business?

AC: AI implementation shouldn't be seen as an afterthought, but neither should it be a case of ‘bet the farm’, which is far too risky. Instead, AI should be considered as a hugely impactful suite of technologies that offer significant potential as a key strategic enabler for the business. But its use should be clearly planned with a design to achieve tangible benefits around the organization, show progress, and deliver results.

Instead of diving headfirst into massive AI projects with no clear end in sight, teams must focus on targeted initiatives to drive success. The phrase I tend to use to encourage momentum and demonstrate value, while mitigating risks is, 'Think big, start small, grow quick.'

  • Think Big: Businesses should envision the long-term implications of AI in their organizations and how it can potentially transform their service delivery or resource management.
  • Start Small: Organizations should take AI implementation in bite-sized chunks with small pieces of capability or specific tasks that can add immediate value and achieve specific outcomes.
  • Grow Quick: By starting small and delivering early wins, teams build momentum and demonstrate the tangible benefits of AI. Once achieving success from the smaller wins, organizations can build and expand AI initiatives, gradually integrating it into more areas of the business.

BN: What can be done to measure the success of AI projects?

AC: Clearly defined KPIs tailored to specific AI goals are crucial, and continuous measurement and iteration are essential for maximizing the success of a business' AI journey. Teams must be sure to track cost savings, efficiency gains, and revenue growth attributable to AI. Additionally, gathering feedback from employees and clients is a key way to identify areas for improvement.

By embracing pragmatic AI and adopting a thoughtful and strategic approach, service and consultancy providers can not only help their clients adapt to the AI boom but also transform their own businesses for sustainable success in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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