CIOs need to direct and steer the ‘AI ship’

CIOs are optimally positioned to build an organization's overall AI capabilities (Image monsitj / iStockPhoto)

Calling your friend with the help of Siri, browsing films personally selected for us by Netflix, checking Google Maps for the fastest route home: we perform these actions daily, and may even take them for granted due to how seamlessly they’ve been embedded into our routines. They all have one thing in common – they are driven by artificial intelligence (AI).

AI is fundamentally reshaping our lives, and businesses are embracing it at an unprecedented rate. Sales of AI-powered technology are increasing rapidly: cognitive and AI systems spend in the Asia Pacific region is forecast to reach US$4.6 billion in 2021, and adoption of AI technologies is predicted to grow by 46.9% between 2016 and 2022.

Local governments are also realizing the potential of AI, with strong growth expected in AI project deployments in countries such as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. The Australian Government released its “Tech Future” strategy in December 2018, unveiling its plan to invest in technologies including AI, robotics and IoT to boost Australia’s digital economy.

The 2018-19 budget allocates A$29.9 billion alone to implement AI and machine learning processes in the country over four years. These digital technologies will deliver benefits across ten various industries to enhance both the economy and society.

AI is embedded in the core of many business functions including in design, marketing and operations. But in our rapidly changing technology future, how can AI be properly implemented so that it fits more broadly into an organization's overall plans – and who should be overseeing these tools?

Enter the CIO. According to Forrester and Dell EMC, CIOs are optimally positioned to build an organization's overall AI capabilities because the data, applications, servers, accelerators, fabric and storage infrastructures that they manage are critical for driving business value through AI.

With half of companies globally planning to implement this technology to improve both the customer experience and their business operations, it’s essential to plan for change effectively.

The following steps can aid CIOs in their deployment of artificial intelligence technologies.

Building an AI center of excellence

CIOs must seize the opportunity to be the change catalyst in their organizations and drive strategic AI plans for transformation: they are in the prime position to do so, given their technical knowledge and ability to oversee all AI projects.

They should have a basic understanding of the organization's current or proposed AI ecosystem, and how AI can support the overall organizational goals. This can be done by engaging all lines of business, by kickstarting conversations and pre-empting discussions with all leaders on their AI needs and wants, and by ensuring constant communication.

The Forrester report revealed that approximately one-fifth of organizations bypass their IT teams when rolling out AI-dependent projects that require business domain knowledge from IT professionals, despite 75% of those same organizations believing that excluding IT from AI initiatives would necessitate a greater degree of work to support further solutions in the future.

Being up to speed with most, if not all, technology operations in the company, the CIO is best-positioned to scale and develop an AI center of excellence across the organization: one that can oversee all activity around IT transformation and ensure that resources are deployed when and where needed.  

Being the connector-in-chief

Data leaks, security risks, inflated operational spend and missed business goals: there are many hazards with attempting to run AI projects without IT support. The inherent expertise of IT teams needs to be utilized, as they are crucial players in supporting business outcomes and reducing the above-mentioned risks.

In the Forrester/Dell EMC report, 60% of organizations reported that there was a lack of stakeholder alignment for organizational AI strategies. The CIO, therefore, must be the bridge to ensure that input from IT is provided throughout each AI project’s lifecycle.

This involvement will ensure reputational – not to mention data – protection for everyone, as well as provide the necessary expertise to all who need it, across the organization

Lines of business can be prone to kickstart AI initiatives on their own but consider this: companies are three times more likely to adopt machine learning platforms, and twice as likely to adopt deep learning platforms with the support of their IT teams. CIOs must see this as an opportunity for them to bridge conversations between teams to ensure the efficacy of AI strategies and projects.

Make the call to modernize

To ensure the organization has the necessary infrastructure and support to run AI initiatives, the CIO needs to make the case for modernization and investment. Being the C-suite leader with the most technical knowledge – and the one creating the AI plan framework for the entire organization – the CIO is best-placed to solicit and consolidate feedback from all lines of business, including the IT team.

With 70% of companies reporting a lack of server automation as the most challenging issue for AI strategies, and 80% indicating a need for new and specialized servers for high-performance computing, the CIO has a role to play in coordinating the necessary investment in infrastructure and platforms; they must make the call to modernize and upgrade systems wherever necessary.

The benefits of modernization are significant. Companies that invest in modern IT infrastructure to support AI can expect improved customer experience and heightened IT operational efficiency, to name just two.

It is very telling that those who are further along in their AI journeys are investing more – and expecting to get more in return (51% expect a ROI of 2 to 5 times their AI investment). By identifying the positive impacts of AI and making the case for AI-driven business acceleration, CIOs can quickly gain support for further investment and buy-in for AI projects in the long-run.

Adoption of AI will only intensify over the coming years and, for the CIO, there is no time to waste. With Data61 reporting that technology growth could be worth A$315 billion to the Australian economy over the next decade – a statistic reflected across the Asia-Pacific region – the need for change has never been clearer.

The rewards are easy to see, and include more reliable IT systems, a strengthened security position, as well as lower redundancy – not to mention greater and faster ROI. This is the moment for the CIO to firmly take the reins and prepare the organization for delivery of AI at scale.

Dmitri Chen

CIO Australia

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