From automation to machine learning and generative artificial intelligence (AI), emerging technologies are changing the companies we work for and the roles we play.
While it is already clear that these technologies will have a major impact on repetitive manual tasks and mid-level managerial responsibilities, what will AI and automation mean for the higher levels of the organization? CIOs are traditionally executives who oversee technology within businesses. These guardians are a steady hand when it comes to IT procurement and deployment.
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However, the use of AI has grown significantly over the past 12 months with the introduction of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and several similar technologies.
The rapid pace of development means it will be difficult for anyone, let alone a CIO who is already responsible for managing day-to-day IT operations, to oversee the rollout of AI.
So, given the rapid rise of emerging technologies, do businesses need a Chief AI Officer?
Aviva Litan, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner, says some organizations are hiring chief AI officers as a best-practice strategy — and she gave an example.
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“Chief AI risk officers at global financial institutions are reporting to the CFO or the bank’s chief risk officer,” he told ZDNET. However, not every business faces a bank risk. And Litan says many organizations won’t be able to afford a specialist AI office.
For most companies, the best way to address the new risks and opportunities of AI is to develop a collective approach that brings together experts from across the business.
“That’s why you see the task force,” he says. “And, generally, it’s much better to have line risk. It’s better to have clear responsibilities and task forces.” Successfully implementing and overseeing AI is a complex issue that touches all parts of the enterprise.
Litan says that all organizations must recognize that AI is not just a phenomenon, but that it cannot be treated like any other IT application.
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“It’s definitely different. From a security standpoint, that’s always been our message: This is a new vector,” she says. “And you can’t use old controls to manage risk. The same is true for opportunities. You can’t just use your old business processes to manage AI opportunities. That’s a different animal.”
Jarrod Phipps, executive vice president and CIO of auto specialist Holman, is another expert who says any decision about whether a business needs a chief AI officer depends on size and scale. Still, he believes having someone senior responsible for AI should be seen as a good thing for most organizations.
“I don’t think it can hurt — and that’s because there’s a whole new security paradigm now,” Phipps said in an interview with ZDNET, echoing the sentiment of Gartner’s Litton.
He envisions a chief AI leader as sitting somewhere between a chief information security officer and a strategic data leader. The AI leader must ensure opportunities are seized without taking unreasonable risks.
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“There’s a security and data privacy element to what we’re going to do, but it also has this dramatic experience element. And you have to strike a balance between the two,” he says. “You have to make some tough trade-offs. And anytime you have to make tough trade-offs, it’s really important to be consistent about how you execute those trade-offs.”
Phipps says Holman created an AI council. Much like the AI task force Litan envisions, Holman’s council analyzes potential use cases and is made up of many senior-level people from across the company, including Phipps.
In the long term, he believes a chief AI leader who is solely responsible for emerging technologies can help businesses balance the risks and rewards of AI.
It’s a sentiment that resonates with Lily Huck, head of technology and digital executive search at recruiter Harvey Nash, who told ZDNET it’s “absolutely possible” companies will need a chief AI officer in the future.
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However, we are not at that point yet.
“Most companies aren’t even piloting these things and the data quality isn’t there in many companies that require these types of investments, but potentially, in the long term, those requirements will exist,” she says. When that situation arises, Haake expects chief AI officers to have strengths in certain technical areas, such as algorithms, natural language processing and machine learning, that the average employee may not understand.
“And that person would also need compliance and regulatory oversight. Where they would sit, I don’t know, because I think there’s an argument that they would still sit under the CIO or the CDO,” he says. “But it all depends on how fast AI expands. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, there will be a chief AI officer who will sit on the executive board and see helicopters throughout the organization because, by then, AI is probably going to be. For every aspect of the business. Essential.”
For now, though, the idea of hiring another technical chief to sit alongside the CIO, CTO, CDO or CISO is also a likely move, says Omer Grossman, global CIO at CyberArk.
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For the growing range of enterprises that prefer to think of themselves as technology businesses, AI will simply be part of everyday work practices. At companies where AI is a core component of business products or services, Grossman expects another senior executive to take over AI leadership.
“This is where you think the head of R&D or the chief product officer, who is responsible for delivering the company’s product or service, should essentially be overseeing the use and embedding of AI capabilities in products,” he says.
Like Gartner’s Litan, Grossman said AI leaders could play an important role in highly regulated sectors, particularly financial services. “A more traditional enterprise, such as a bank, might have a chief AI officer who has an AI center of excellence or some architecture or structure that uses AI to improve all of the company’s deliverables.” Dr. Grossman.
Andy Moore, chief data officer (CDO) at Bentley Motors, is another executive who isn’t convinced that most businesses need a single executive responsible for AI.
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Like other experts, Moore cites size and scale as the deciding factors. He says Bentley isn’t a big enough company to start building its own expensive language model (LLM) from scratch, a project you’d expect a C-level chief AI officer to oversee.
Currently, AI leadership success for most companies will be about finding a best-of-breed LLM — and that’s likely a skill set that’s within the compass of a CIO and a dedicated task force to help guide business use, risk. , and awards.
“It’s about that mindset that says, ‘OK, the LLM will give me what I need, and how do I make sure I don’t leave a footprint of my data there, while still being able to draw the benefits of emerging technologies,'” Moore said. .