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Why every Fortune 500 business needs a chief AI officer
Hiring a team of great machine learning scientists and data analysts simply isn’t enough.
I strongly believe that 2023 is the year when artificial intelligence will shift from a Silicon Valley toy into a priority for virtually every business that wants to avoid becoming the Blockbuster of their industry. After a year of big breakthroughs including DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and ChatGPT, AI has become mainstream. Companies that do not integrate AI into their product, operations, and business strategy will struggle to remain competitive—and fall behind those that do.
Consumers today are going to expect AI-powered features and products from every company they interact with. Organizations like Canva, Notion, and Shutterstock have all recently rolled out generative AI tools.
AI also will unlock new levels of operational efficiencies that go beyond the product itself. Sales and marketing teams that leverage AI will outperform those that rely solely on human work. Companies that don’t adopt AI code generation tools will lag behind in engineering productivity.
The tough reality is, hiring a team of great machine learning scientists and data analysts simply isn’t enough to address how critical AI will be for businesses in 2023.
Rather than being applied to isolated use cases as an afterthought, AI must be built into the strategic direction of any company and must be considered a fundamental part of the road map; which necessitates the hiring of a chief AI officer (CAIO).
Hiring a CAIO is complex because the flexibility of AI omits the possibility of a one-size-fits-all approach. Consider the variety of ways a CAIO at some of the most powerful and long-standing corporations might think about using AI. Walmart’s CAIO may be focused on how the giant retailer can use AI to personalize shopping experiences by recommending products based on customers’ online browsing, in-store, and purchasing history. At GE, the role might be focused on using AI to automate repetitive tasks, such as monitoring and dynamically adjusting production lines, which would increase efficiency and reduce costs. Bank of America’s CAIO could focus on using AI to detect fraudulent activity in real time, reducing the risk of financial losses.
Regardless of the industry, a few things will remain consistent. The CAIO can help businesses stay ahead of the curve by identifying key areas in operating pipelines at which AI can be effectively applied. The executive will be well-suited to identify new opportunities for growth and innovation that rely on the unique power of AI and which the company may not have otherwise considered. Their leadership position will afford them the opportunity to oversee change from the top down at the speed needed to stay competitive. And perhaps most importantly, a CAIO can help ensure that an organization is using AI in an ethical and responsible way, which will help with reputation and building trust with customers.
In addition to the responsibility of leading the company’s AI strategy, the CAIO will need to ensure that the strategy is aligned with the company’s overall goals and objectives. In addition to research and engineering, the CAIO should work closely with product, marketing, finance, and operations to identify areas where AI can be used to improve efficiency and drive growth across the operating plane. To effectively manage and execute on these responsibilities, as well as ensure that AI is ingrained into the bedrock of the company, it’s important that the CAIO reports directly to the CEO and is a member of the executive leadership team.
This role may be among the most challenging to hire for. Not only does the individual need a strong background in AI, they also need a deep understanding of the industry in which the company operates and how to properly apply AI in this space for differentiation. From a cultural and leadership perspective, the CAIO must have experience overseeing large, diverse teams and be comfortable working in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. Because the concept of a CAIO is novel and a response to the burgeoning demand for AI-powered products, it will be initially more ambiguous than other leadership roles and will solidify as AI matures in industry.
As the world becomes more and more reliant on the rapidly developing field of AI, it is crucial for companies to have a clear AI strategy in place to stay competitive. The CAIO will be instrumental in developing this strategy to help companies position themselves for long-term success.