AI in Professional Services Firms: Artificial Intelligence is Here and Now

December 21, 2017

A quarter of Google’s internal accounting staff is made up of programmers with little to no accounting knowledge. It’s part of Google’s ongoing efforts to automate rote manual processes.

But can outside auditors, vendors and partners keep up with their innovations? As the use of AI in professional services grows, firms will need to face these issues directly.

Can artificial intelligence (AI) be trusted? Will it take jobs? Will everyone have to learn to code? Firms will need to meet these questions directly in coming years.

Here are some of the ways it’s already being used in the professional services industry — particularly in the legal profession.

AI in Professional Services Industry

Professional services firms are using AI to tackle one of the biggest problems when dealing with their clients: document acceptance, maintenance and management.

From receipts in a shoe box to scanned records, each type of data presents its own unique problem to the professional. Helping solve these problems are advancements in optical character recognition (OCR) technology. OCR transforms data of any kind into readable, usable electronic documents.

Advanced OCR technology can aid lawyers in sifting through large discovery sets, help medical practices upload patient data into their systems or serve any number of other uses. Once documents have been processed by OCR, they’re no longer “documents.” They become data — searchable, sortable and malleable — which allows the professional to turn unusable ink into usable bytes.

AI in Law Firms

One of the most menial tasks for lawyers is document review, or the determination of which documents are relevant and which are not.

Predictive coding (sometimes called technology-assisted review) is the use of AI to cull through large sets of documents to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. Instead of interns and contract employees sitting in cubicle farms reviewing hundreds of documents all day, predictive coding can apply defined parameters to a set of documents to review entire discovery sets in a fraction of the time.

At a high level, predictive coding is less about “magic” and more about utilizing technology to assist the attorney in speeding up the logical process they likely already employ through the use of an algorithm.

The process of predictive coding involves setting parameters around what constitutes responsive/non-responsive documents. Those parameters are applied to the document set via algorithms, and a subset of responsive documents is sampled. The professional must review that subset to determine the strengths of the specified parameters.

This process follows the directions on the back of the shampoo bottle: wash, rinse, repeat. You might need to sample a subset of the documents several times. It mostly depends on the ability of the professional to set strong and valid parameters and apply those parameters consistently to every review.

Predictive coding is not for everyone or every case. If you have 1,000 documents to review, it’s probably not for you. A million? Maybe it’s time to consider. But how do you know if it’s for you? That’s a key question when considering the use of AI in professional services firms.

Is It for You?

IBM is now making it easier than ever for developers to harness the power of Watson, its AI system which was used on “Jeopardy” in 2011. The company recently announced the creation of an open-source marketplace for bot exchange. The computer giant is prepackaging more than 120 code patterns based on Watson technology to make development with AI easier than ever.

While most professionals aren’t going to learn how to develop bots and write code, there will be a shift in the knowledge base of skilled professionals. Those who can help programmers write, test and apply the code will thrive in the new era of professional services. New associates who can write or understand SQL or another coding language may have an advantage over their peers.

AI in professional services firms is not right for everyone or every use. Depending on your firm size and client base, trying to force automation into a process may create more inefficiencies than it’s worth. Assign someone at your firm to research available technology to see what makes sense for your needs. A CPA-based advisory firm can help guide you through this process.

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