AI-enabled enterprise starts with education, not tech

Step one for CIOs charged with building an AI-enabled workplace is to keep up with what's happening in the field. Next is to help their IT teams develop the habit.

The AI-enabled enterprise won't be built in a day. Take it from representatives at companies knee-deep in building AI hardware, software and services for their customers and clients, including IBM, Affectiva Inc. and Grant Thornton LLP.

At the recent AI and the Future of Work event hosted by MIT, these representatives provided advice on how CIOs can start to build the AI-enabled enterprise -- as quickly as tomorrow morning. One of the first steps they suggested CIOs take? Get caught up on what the AI terrain looks like.

"The number one thing I would say is to invest the time to really understand what is happening in AI," said Nichole Jordan, managing partner of markets, clients and industry at accounting and advisory firm Grant Thornton.

AI literacy is a must

Jordan pointed to AI Magazine and O'Reilly Media's artificial intelligence newsletter as two "simple examples" of how CIOs can incorporate AI education into their daily routines and that of their teams. She described this as just "a sprinkling," but said the reading material can encourage discussions about artificial intelligence and how its resurgence might affect the future of the company.

Reading up on AI could be worthwhile even for the smallest organizations, according to Jordan. "It no longer requires a multimillion-dollar budget to get AI started in your organization," she said.

AI, Grant ThorntonNichole Jordan

Take mergers and acquisitions, which require advisors to monitor and analyze disparate and often siloed data sources such as patent filings or regulatory findings. Today, AI is doing that kind of work and even collecting metrics on company culture, customer feedback and employee engagement that it scrapes from sites such as Glassdoor.

"Over time, the AI is able to develop and monitor trends, patterns, make recommendations to you for potentially other companies to put into your acquisitions portfolio," Jordan said. "It is about speed and accuracy and being able to analyze a lot of data that we didn't historically have the opportunity to bring together into one place."

Knowledge overhype

Affectiva's Gabi Zijderveld echoed Jordan's remarks, saying that education is a must.

"There's so much hype and fluff around AI because every bit of technology today is [marketed as] AI," said Zijderveld, chief marketing officer and head of product strategy at the emotion measurement company.

As CIOs familiarize themselves with what's out there, they also need to get a grip on the appropriate opportunities AI can provide to their companies, according to Zijderveld. In Affectiva's case, its first customers came from an obvious market segment.

affective, AI, emotion AIGabi Zijderveld

Media and advertising companies began using the emotion AI technology, which can interpret facial expressions in real time, to test their content and assess audience response. These days, customers include educators who use the technology to help children with autism decode facial expressions, as well as medical care workers who can use it to detect Parkinson's disease or as a benchmark for facial reconstruction surgery.

Zijderveld also suggested CIOs look at industry best practices, talk to their peers, find out what competitors are doing and uncover good examples of applied AI, taking note of their results and the products and technologies that drove those results.

And she provided a note of caution for CIOs: Don't fall into the over-engineering trap. "If you have an old-fashioned ruler that does the job, maybe you don't need AI there," she said. "Use the damn ruler."

Lifelong learning is key

For Sophie Vandebroek, vice president of emerging technology partnerships at IBM, building the AI-enabled enterprise means developing employee skills.

"At IBM, in fact, we are being measured to make sure we take 40 hours of education every year on these kinds of topics," she said.

Not only is training important, but hiring and bringing in the right skills is also key, according to Vandebroek. For AI-enabled enterprises to succeed, employees who know how to use AI tools, especially as they become more accessible, easier to use and embedded into workflows, will be critical.

Vandebroek cited IBM's Project Debater product as an example of how AI could change workflows. The AI system has been trained to take a topic, craft an argument and debate its merits -- in minutes. Vandebroek believes a technology like this could help companies work through difficult decisions they need to make, such as with an acquisition.

As part of that education, companies -- from the board of directors on down -- need to recognize the importance of trust and transparency, according to Vandebroek. She stressed decisions be explainable and that data privacy be made a priority.

Next Steps

Affectiva emotion AI vendor latest in AI acquisition wave

Dig Deeper on Digital transformation

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing
Data Center
and ESG