AI confessions from the corporate boardroom

According to a BCG study, nine out of 10 senior executives say that this year, artificial intelligence and generative AI will be a top-three tech priority, and 85% say they intend to boost their spending on the technology in 2024. The problem is, they don’t really know where to invest or how much.

According to that same study, there are very few Fortune 500 corporations spending over $50 million on AI or gen AI initiatives. But these same companies are spending hundreds of millions on manufacturing facilities and product innovation. The scales are unevenly tipped now and into the future, creating uncertainty of what will be the most important balance of investments for companies to make as they move forward.

As companies realize the importance of AI, we are seeing more money than ever being pumped into AI so as not to get left behind. However, it seems we are at the stage where the technology is maturing faster than what we can, or are willing to, execute on. The human factor—both corporate leadership vision and team execution—will continue to be the limiting factor for success with AI for most companies.

Importance of AI in Corporate Conference Rooms is Rising

While there is still confusion, the tides are definitely turning. The BCG study also showed that 95% of senior executives are allowing AI and generative AI to be utilized at work. That’s a huge leap from mid-last year, when more than 50% of leaders were actively discouraging any use of AI. Most corporate leaders at least understand that AI has some type of importance to their companies and that they need to be “in it” somehow. They’re just not sure where to start or how to get there.

Who Should be Accountable to Lead AI?

One of the starting points is making someone accountable. AI will be disruptive and impactful enough (in both risk and reward) to warrant a dedicated owner. The easy thing to do is just give the responsibility to your CTO or CIO, as they are responsible for technology and information, right? Not necessarily. Companies must understand that AI is much bigger than just “technology” disciplines; it will impact every area of your business. AI and gen AI will not only impact marketing, customer experience, distribution and technology decisions, but will have business, economic, social and ethical implications as well.

So then, maybe appoint a CAIO (Chief AI Officer)? Perhaps not quite yet. Until you totally embrace the opportunity and the scale of impact it could make on your company, perhaps that leader doesn't need a C-suite title—at least not yet. Before investing in a C-suite leader, you need to define your organizational acceptance (starts with top leaders) that AI is here and will redefine almost everything your team, customers and suppliers do and how they do it.

At Interrupt, the solution today is an AI task force made up of a cross-functional team across the agency. In a larger company, that might be a dedicated employee tasked with soliciting input from all departments and then creating a holistic vision and a detailed path forward. Regardless, the successful companies will be those that truly embrace AI in a comprehensive manner looking at every corner of their business, not the ones that merely treat it as a technology-only opportunity.

It’s All About Execution

The BCG study states that 66% of leaders are “ambivalent or outright dissatisfied” with their AI and generative AI progress thus far. Great execution comes out of tight alignment. The following are key areas to align around.

Leadership Vision:

The first part of alignment is the C-suite defining what success looks like. You need clear direction for your team to drive a detailed road map on AI investments and priorities. You need a holistic AI strategy; don’t just make it a subset of your technology initiatives. Structure follows strategy, so getting the strategy right is your foundation to building the appropriate team and processes.

Lead Accountability:

Next is the execution team to lead the initiative. Don’t do what corporate America usually does with new initiatives, define a collective leadership team and have them each allocate 10% of their time to lead AI. If everyone is accountable, no one is accountable. Make one of your savvy, up-and-coming mid-level managers the champion and give them accountability to lead a multi-disciplinary team with representatives across all facets of your business.

Team Expertise:

Organizations must build a level of AI literacy across their workforce to develop the skills necessary to execute use cases for generative AI. Make sure you have sufficient talent and skills to execute. Utilize the numerous training options available out in the market and create a team of experts to provide guidance to the rest of your organization.

Ongoing Organizational Communication:

Share your direction as well as expectations of employees, how to interact with the core AI team, and how or when to use (or not use) AI. And allow teams to share AI learnings across the organization and departments. Speed of communication and sharing is critical to fully leverage the ever-changing dynamics.

Data Management:

There is a lot of data that comes with AI/Generative AI. Find a way to harness it. Consider creating a new role of Leader of Data Integration, someone who can serve as a change agent in building a culture and connectivity around AI data.

Security Measures:

Make sure you have active guidelines and security measures in place. Employees need to understand privacy and ethical practices, such as not putting confidential company or customer information into open AI models or public platforms.

Legal Counsel:

The legal implications of AI tools and content are evolving as quickly as the technologies and use cases around them. Make sure you have knowledgeable legal support in place to help guide your path forward.

The Final Word

Most executives admit their team is undereducated on AI, causing a lot of lingering uncertainty on how to move forward. It is important to accept that AI is going to be an incredibly strong and powerful force that can also have pretty amazing (and some scary) use cases. Ignoring it won’t change that. Ultimately you need to define what the future of “responsible AI” looks like within your organization. Effective leaders must weigh the future possibilities of AI, discern what use cases will add the most value for customers and their business, and be aware of legal and regulatory constraints.

When you embrace the idea that AI-enabled technologies will fundamentally transform the business landscape, you free yourself from the blinders of siloed thinking and put your organization in the position to develop a holistic, integrated approach with clear vision, leadership and governance.

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