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AI in professional services revolutionizes white-collar jobs

Professional services and consulting firms are adopting AI at a rapid rate, even though these types of jobs, which mainly focus on interpersonal interaction, may not seem like strong targets for automation.

The world's economy is increasingly shifting away from manufacturing and human labor-associated jobs to service and knowledge work, and professional services and consulting firms make up a substantial share those jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 21.5 million people in the U.S. are employed in office administrative positions, with tens of millions more employed in legal, accounting and other primarily desk- and document-oriented jobs.

These occupations and related professional services roles are largely focused on interpersonal interactions, generating and handling documents and dealing with the resources of people, time and technology assets. Despite what might seem to be mostly human-centric activities, the use of AI in professional services and consulting firms is making automation a part of the daily lives of white-collar workers.

Automating document drudgery

Knowledge and office workers spend most of their days dealing with computer systems and documents. It comes as little surprise then that intelligent automation is being applied to handle many of the daily tasks necessary to interact with and shuffle data and information between those systems. Robotic process automation, while not necessarily enabled with intelligent AI capabilities, has provided the first step to automating much of the routine workflow automation tasks in organizations. Some enterprises are enhancing those repetitive task tools with more intelligent capabilities that can process documents using natural language understanding and computer vision.

Cognitive automation enabled by more intelligent machine learning is able to adapt to variability in documents and systems and is increasingly able to handle changes in business processes. Technology consulting firm Delaware Consulting International uses this more intelligent back-office automation to increase the productivity among its 2,000 employees. By having AI-based systems keep an eye on real-time reporting of its global operations, the company can more effectively optimize resources across markets and provide a higher level of service for customers.

The use of AI in professional services enables firms to reduce costs by performing repetitive tasks, while still delivering efficient, consistent, high-quality service. Legal services talent company UpCounsel is using AI-enabled process systems to reduce costs by eliminating some junior staff positions and providing faster responses to their clients.

Extracting more value from data

Professional services firms are awash in data, from enterprise software applications to databases and online applications that are core to their business activities. Intelligent use of this data can lead professional services firms to extract more value from their assets, improve competitiveness, provide greater satisfaction to customers and partners, and increase revenue and profits. The key to generating this enhanced data value is the use of machine learning-powered predictive analytics and pattern matching. Predictive analytics can comb through large sets of data and documents to find the proverbial information needle in the data haystack.

Smart organizations are using AI-based predictive analytics to identify trends that will impact revenues, resource allocation, personnel and customers. Instead of using formulas that are rough approximations of the market, professional services firms that use AI-based approaches to predictive analytics can respond in real time to market trends and use patterns learned from data to plan for future outcomes.

In addition to giving firms a better grip on their data, the use of AI in professional services is helping provide more focused and personalized services for customers. Machine learning helps organizations learn more about their customers, enabling them to develop and deliver hyperpersonalized offerings and pricing. As a result, law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms and other professional services firms can provide tailored offerings, deepening the relationship with their customers.

Generating content

AI systems are becoming more capable of creating natural language content in the form of text and credible visual images and video that closely mimic human ability. For many professional services organizations, creation of content is core to their businesses. AI-enabled natural language generation can draft business-relevant text, including contracts, proposals, offer letters, confirmation letters, briefs, press releases, reports and other business-critical content.

Additionally, AI systems are helping beyond text-based documents. These machine learning-enabled systems create images for use in advertising and marketing promotions and in support of client activities. AI systems are also being used to create video and other interactive content to provide more interaction with reports and other content. Companies are starting to use AI systems to create presentations, check existing presentations for errors and generate presentations for customers without requiring any human interaction.

Reducing fraud and risk

Beyond managing processes and generating content, AI systems are also being used to keep a close eye on business operations, finances and resources to make sure that they are not being abused. Machine learning systems can be trained on correct behavioral patterns, as well as common fraudulent ones, and can spot anomalies in business process behavior or potentially fraudulent patterns. Within legal, accounting and consulting practices, it is important to make sure that employees comply with legal and corporate policies, regulations and practices. The risk of noncompliance and potential losses associated with fraud are significant. Having AI systems provide an extra eye on operations is incredibly valuable.

AI systems can also help speed up audits and regular analysis of transactions. Machine learning algorithms are able to examine a year's worth of transactions for irregularities much quicker than their human counterparts, enabling companies to move away from using traditional sampling approaches. Companies can also use AI-based natural language processing to examine critical documents, such as contracts, proposals, deeds, or mortgage and loan applications and analyze those documents for potential risk and compliance issues.

While AI is getting much attention for how it impacts manufacturing, transportation and IT systems, it's clear that AI and machine learning are making their impact felt in even the most staid of industries. Tomorrow's professional services firms will be more than just humans working with humans, supported by lots of documents and data; they will be augmented with the power of AI.

This was last published in June 2019

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