Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are quickly becoming two of the defining technological revolutions of our time. Exploding onto the scene several years ago, AI is now evolving in real-time to address a growing range of business use cases, from strategic decision-making, to marketing, to customer interactions, and more, all spiraling faster than many could have anticipated.

According to IBM’s AI Index, 35% of all industries are already using AI, 42% are formalizing their AI strategies, and more than 30% of IT professionals are using AI tools in their day to day work to improve their own productivity. McKinsey anticipates that productivity gains associated with generative AI adoption alone could add the equivalent of up to $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy, more than the GDP of the United Kingdom. Finally, tech research and advisory giant, Gartner Inc. predicts that spending on AI software will surge from $124 billion in 2022 to $297 billion in 2027, with the market expected to grow at a 19% compound annual growth rate in the next six years. Generative AI (GenAI) software alone is expected to skyrocket from 8% of AI spending in 2023 to 35% by 2027.

The impact this will have on business models cannot be overstated. AI adoption can offer many benefits, including enhanced productivity, reduced operational time, deeper data analytics, and more, disrupting industries ranging from banking to software development, to professional and business services, to the life sciences. Many industries are already addressing these challenges head on, working quickly to determine their staffing needs going forward and hiring the right talent to guide their own AI transitions.

This need is particularly acute in technology professional services since these providers are typically where other industries turn for help with new technologies. And demand is growing quickly. BCC Research has forecast that the market for AI-related consulting services will exceed $64 billion worldwide by 2028, driven by increased adoption of AI technologies across many different industries, growing investment in AI and ML technologies, and concerns about transparency issues related to data-driven decision making.

A Race for AI Talent

So what makes a great AI leader today? Many are still working that out. While AI itself has been around for decades, companies are only recently beginning the process of defining the role that AI will play in their growth. The professional services industry is at the forefront of this for end users, given its early forays into the technology as a subject matter expert for clients.

The result is a tight market for skilled talent, particularly top talent who have implemented and put AI solutions into production. Top candidates are commanding rich compensation packages with the flexibility to choose their own paths. In response, universities are developing specialized programs and revamping their curriculums to offer new AI and ML courses to meet this growing demand. Experienced technology professionals are upskilling to migrate into AI, as are skilled career changers.

But the professional services industry maintains a distinct advantage when it comes to sourcing and retaining top AI talent compared to end user companies.

Throughout the history of technology, from the PC, to the internet, to the cloud, professional services firms have been on the cutting edge. They must be, because their clients demand it, and they need the best specialized talent in the market to deliver those services.

The fact is, AI consulting is rapidly becoming a significant revenue generator across all professional services, as product development companies continue launching products and AI models at breakneck speeds and need help to stave off their own competitors. Professional services firms exist to address those needs.

That’s why the top technical talent has always sought out employment in this industry – it is where the most cutting-edge, engaging and fulfilling work in technology is happening. AI is no exception.

The Professional Services Advantage

 While industry leaders are still working to determine how and where to apply AI to their businesses, what support roles they need to implement their plans, and how to structure the business case, professional services firms are well past those conversations. That is to the industry’s advantage. While end user firms continue to debate and consider their options, professional services is already out in the market advising clients, investing in new capabilities, and bringing on the best AI talent. They have work for them, can compensate them well, and can expose them to interesting AI and ML projects in many different sectors.

The challenge going forward will be to maintain this lead, continuing to attract the right talent and retain them over time. Firms will need to understand where AI talent can be found and how to reach them, whether that is through educational channels or other means. Further, they must truly understand the market, partnering with advisors who know the full landscape of AI talent and what roles can provide the most value.

Because the fight for AI market share is just heating up. The years ahead will likely be even more competitive for professional services firms and their clients, with top AI talent even more in demand than they are right now. The firms that do the best in this environment will be those that fully understand their role in this evolving talent marketplace, offer the most interesting and engaging work, and put strategies in place to not only source but nurture relationships with the next generation of AI talent.

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