How to Become an AI-Centric Organization


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After a few years of relative technological stability, Generative AI has taken the world by storm — so much so that McKinsey estimates that any business that’s not connected to AI will become obsolete in the next three years.

AI-native businesses — businesses built with AI at their core — are already on the rise. Existing corporates that need time to implement change need to take heed. Generative AI has created an inflection point where AI-centric models are moving ahead at lightning speed, and organizations that are still on the fence are rapidly becoming left behind.

I saw a similar thing happen during the boom with Blockbuster when the business failed to digitize on time to cater to an increasingly digitally savvy audience. The same happened with Blackberry and its failure to adopt the touch screen keyboard on time, making their state-of-the-art device a thing of the past. Both examples aren’t so much about the lack of product updates as much as the failure of the leadership team to drive a deeper business transformation on time.

While many are just waking up, time is already running out for organizations still dabbling with AI. That is the bad news. The good news is that there’s still time to course-correct. Any successful technological transformation starts with a business process transformation first. That’s all about your employees and how people work with each other. Employees can quickly turn into agents for change provided they’re given the right tools and space to contribute. And that’s something you can easily do.

Related: Why You Should Incorporate AI into Your Business — and How to Do It the Right Way

What’s an AI-centric organization?

I see a convergence of two forces here — AI-native organizations, in essence, startups that are built with AI in their infrastructure from day one, automation and data being at the forefront of their modus operandi, and rapid transformation of existing organizations into AI-centric entities. To survive and thrive, more organizations will have to become AI-centric, making room for AI as a central “glue” in how they operate and grow in the future.

This transformation is, of course, a tall ask. Any operational change can be a painful process, let alone one that touches on every aspect of the business, from sales and customer service all the way to finance and HR. Yet, I think, the opportunity cost of not undergoing this massive transformation is too great to ignore. Organizations need to embrace AI if they want to remain competitive and relevant in the long run. So, the question isn’t whether you should become an AI-centric organization, but how to become one.

Related: How to Successfully Implement AI into Your Business — Overcoming Challenges and Building a Future-Ready Team

Building an AI-centric organization

Create an open dialogue around AI:

People fear the unknown. If change is happening, and your employees feel like they’re the last ones to find out, it will create a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. A McKinsey survey, for instance, has found that a lot of transformation efforts fail because the goals haven’t been adapted to the work of each and every employee. Even more worrisome is the finding that senior leaders are 20% more likely to think that these goals have been adapted than the rest of the workforce, leaving a great chasm of misunderstanding between the two.

When defining your AI strategy and goals, you want to involve your intrapreneurs from all levels of your organization in how these changes are going to impact individual job roles. Let them communicate these changes to the impacted employees. Create open forums where employees can ask questions, express concerns and share best practices with each other. This proactive engagement may make you nervous and require hand-holding upfront, but it will certainly pay off down the line in increased level of innovation, adoption and impact.

Get everyone involved:

Other than letting people know what change is afoot (a top-down approach), you also need to think about ways in which you can get all employees involved in the process (bottom-up approach). An early McKinsey study shows that when employees feel like they’re actively engaged in any business change, they’re far more likely to stick with it.

The best way to get your workforce involved is to simply ask them about use cases and tools that they think can solve an existing business problem. Another way is to create “promptathons,” which will help people come up with new AI prompts while giving you much-needed insight into the quality of your existing AI algorithms. Finally, get teams to test out pilot solutions and provide feedback. For example, if your customer service team needs to learn to work alongside a new chatbot, work with them to co-design it. Your employees are the best innovators and they know your business processes the best.

Experiment with AI-centric business models:

Pay attention to the rapid changes in the AI space — both in technology and in emerging business models. If you have a dedicated innovation team, work with them on experimenting with AI-centric solutions. If you don’t have one, perhaps it’s time to create it as AI innovation doesn’t wait.

In this context, create a tiered approach for AI use cases, a clear metrics and prioritization framework, and a map of each business function transformation. An AI-centric organization demands the data (and therefore organizational knowledge) to freely flow between business units and underlying platforms. This might be a costly endeavor, but it presents a unique opportunity to revisit and rework your entire business infrastructure. Think of it as migrating from paper memos to emails. That was a huge leap, but nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that organizations once relied on printed materials and interoffice mail only.

Related: Ashton Kutcher Warns Companies to Embrace AI or ‘You’re Probably Going to Be Out of Business’

The AI way or the highway

Working with executives across many verticals, I see that many of them are subjected to a lot of AI fear-mongering. Business leaders feel increasingly pressured into adopting AI even when they’re not ready to do so. This, of course, is the wrong approach. Poor AI adoption can do far more damage than not adopting AI in the first place. So, as a first step, make sure you focus on your business strategy.

That said, complacency isn’t the answer either. If you don’t have a clear strategy on how AI can elevate your business, then that should be at the top of your priority list. Consult your employees to glean insights you may not have gained otherwise. Then get down to work because time is ticking, and businesses using AI are already flying through the competitive landscape.

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