Driving AI transformation in your organisation: do you need an AI Lead?

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Who will be the catalyst for your AI journey?

AI is colliding with our organisations, and no one knows what theirs will look like in five years’ time!

Generative AI’s capabilities complement our human workforce so well and save so much time if used effectively that there will barely be a team untouched.  The introduction of AI is one of the most profound changes that organisations will face.  This new intelligent tool, alongside each member of staff, will change the way we work and even the way we understand our jobs.

In January 2024, the IMF’s AI and the Future Of Work report estimated that “about 60 percent of jobs are exposed to AI, due to prevalence of cognitive-task-oriented jobs. About half may be negatively affected by AI, while the rest could benefit from enhanced productivity through AI integration”.  Change of this magnitude will require leadership!

To succeed, organisations need clear direction, open-mindedness, and pragmatism.  Each one will need an AI Lead.  But who might that be?  And what needs to be done?

In Part 1, we will look at the key objectives of an AI Lead role and what it needs to achieve. Whether you decide to start with a business consultant, an interim expert or a suitably qualified permanent member of the team, here are some key elements of the role.

The Role of an AI Lead

1. Introduce new thinking and spark interest

AI is a technology, but it’s not just about the tech. It’s about new ways of thinking and doing business.  The process starts off with a solid understanding of what it can do and what are its limitations.  It quickly moves on to day-to-day practical adoption. But be sure to identify the problem(s) you are trying to solve in the first place, and don’t just jump to AI as a solution because everyone seems to think it’s a good idea. The business changes that AI enables can span personal task management, process redesign, service transformation and ultimately new business models.  Your start-up competitors will jump straight to the new business models.

2. Provide vision and direction

AI’s inevitable development over the coming years requires every organisation to have a vision to set direction and a strategy to lay out the practical next steps.  The AI Lead must work with the senior management team and key people to craft a compelling plan and get the AI journey off to a positive start.  Engaging the Leadership Team and the Board are early actions as they must instil a sense of urgency, determine the priorities and ensure effective oversight of new AI policies.


3. Unearth opportunities and build momentum

AI can’t run our businesses (yet!), so it’s up to each of us to make the most of it.  AI will impact your people, processes, technology, policies and services.  Identify opportunities to deliver positive changes for your customers, colleagues and even suppliers.  Generative AI solutions are packaged in plain English and can be quickly explored, but others require deep technical knowledge, robust organisation data and significant cross-organisation collaboration.  AI will become a core building block of all organisations so its impact must align with your broader transformation challenges.

4. Enthuse the team and manage stakeholders

All change programmes come with the challenge of alignment.  Many people are both excited and apprehensive about AI, so putting minds at ease is crucial.  A strong two-way dialogue will help the organisation move at the optimum speed and keep people on side.  Internally, a network of AI champions would be a positive force.  You will need to balance the pace of change with the ability of the workforce to embrace it.  Focus on real business improvements – creating pictures of cats with long beards is only of use to cat beard retailers!

5. Develop an ethical AI delivery capability

The AI Lead needs to construct a successful change strategy, establish a delivery programme, and build capability across the organisation.  Some organisations subject all their staff to extensive theoretical AI sessions (like 12 hours of online AI theory I recently heard of), but this is not usually necessary. What is crucial is for individuals to understand the capabilities of AI tools and to develop the confidence to apply them responsibly in their daily tasks.  This alone will lead to business changes, becoming dramatic over time.


6. Hold the course, reduce risk and deliver results

The disciplines of business change remain, even as the pace of change increases.  An AI Lead is charged with establishing the right governance structures, maintaining the momentum, addressing issues and ensuring the organisation makes consistent progress.  They must make sure that compliance, data protection and risk are addressed early, staying abreast of the regulation that is trying to keep up.  The AI Lead must provide support and challenge up, down, sideways and outside the organisation.  Core skills for the AI age (curiosity, problem articulation, critical thinking) should become part of the hiring process for new staff.

Starting the Journey

So, where do you start?  You will need a senior management team sponsor who can champion the opportunities and create the organisation space to work in.  Choose business areas with immediate pressures or teams with the enthusiasm to start creating success stories.

This may or may not mean that the Lead manages a delivery team.  It may be more appropriate to have a looser virtual structure, with the Lead acting as a facilitator, cheerleader and catalyst.

It is important to provide a clear business context and be focused on the impact AI is having.  However, a business case isn’t always necessary to get started. For example, managers agonising over a business case to use Google in 2002 were missing the point, as the internet’s future was already inevitable.  The important thing is to start, and with the right leadership the programme has the best chance of a successful start.

Next time …

In Part 2 we will look at where the role might fit within the organisation, five key skill sets, and some of the key challenges to overcome.  Adaptability will be key as we are all still learning how best to co-exist with AI and achieve the most for our organisations and customers.  There’s a lot to be done …



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James Crawford
Written by James Crawford
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