Image of panel for interview with robot in the centre to represent Artificial Intelligence in the workplace | Randall & Payne

AI and the future role of us mere mortals

Like any new product or process there is a lot of talk and speculation about its potential, and it can be hard to pick through the noise to gain real understanding of what it means and most importantly how it could impact our businesses.

It seems, perhaps rightly, that every conference I attend now has at least one session discussing the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI). What was perhaps below the radar of most of us 12 months ago is now very much front and centre for all of us. In fact, I recently hosted the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce’s AI event titled “Is your Business Ready for Tomorrow?” which involved a panel discussion about how AI can influence, improve and enhance our businesses.

What we do know is that the rate of adoption of AI has been phenomenal and far exceeds the typical trajectory of an invention. We are used to the inflated hype of a new wonder product and in many cases are still waiting perhaps years later to see how it really works. AI is on different journey, seemingly invading every aspect of our lives already. Even as I type this spelling and grammatical suggestions are being thrown at me. Indeed, I could have written this entire article using AI (and I did try but our wonderful marketing team were having none of it!).

We also know that AI is very good at processing data and we have adopted some of this early on with cloud based accounting systems which “learn” the nature of the transaction and increasingly can automate transactions posting. It can then analyse data and present it with insights for us to interpret and encourage the client to act upon. AI can make suggestions about what needs to be done based on the analysis of the data. This opens an opportunity for SMEs to have access to data and insights that typically only corporates would have had in the past.

In my role as Chair of Governors at Gloucestershire College I attended the Association of Colleges conference recently. We heard how AI can write lesson plans in minutes relieving lecturers of the hours it currently takes. This will free up time and increase productivity, which has long been an issue for UK businesses. Something that struck me during that session around the future role of us mere mortals was the phrase “uniquely human skills”. On the face of it that seems to capture our future role but immediately raises the next question – what are those skills?

Knowledge and the application of that knowledge to specific circumstances has been the preserve of professionals since the dawn of time. In my view the value of that knowledge and to a lesser extent its application has been reducing ever since internet search engines were invented. I often now take calls from clients who are happy to explain to me what they believe the situation is, based on their own research. Ironically, as professionals we are all keen to demonstrate our expertise by sharing our knowledge on our website, in blog posts on LinkedIn and so on, thereby giving the client the information they need. Of course, we will say that “everyone’s circumstances are different” but I am not convinced we can continue to hide behind that for much longer.

Where I believe we will continue to have a role is in ensuring that the client acts upon the data and knowledge that they have, in their unique personal circumstances with their unique personality. As mentors and advisers we challenge the client, their plans and actions and then hold them to account. AI can keep sending emails reminding me what to do but an eye-to-eye conversation to explain your progress and to receive some encouragement and understanding to overcome barriers to implementation is very powerful.

The great news is that we are doing that already and it is changing clients’ businesses and their lives. Long may that continue!

Will Abbott heads up the business advisory and coaching team – you can book a free advice clinic to discuss your business needs by contacting him on 01242 776000 or emailing