4 ways CIOs must lead AI initiatives in 2019

Artificial intelligence and automation promise to unlock major business value, but IT leaders must step up to lead those projects.

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Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies have matured enough to be ready to drive significant business value, and the CIO must step up to work across business lines and spearhead those projects in 2019.

"This is the time when artificial intelligence needs to start becoming a reality. It should no longer be just a trend. It should no longer be just a hype," said John Gikopoulos, global head of AI and automation at Infosys Consulting. "This is the time where we need to start delivering, and to start creating value out of artificial intelligence and automation."

In 2019, the CIO role will evolve more than any other C-suite position, particularly when it comes to their role in implementing emerging technologies, Gikopoulos said.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

"With the advent of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, CIOs need to become much more of a translator between technology and business, and not just the delivery head or the center of excellence when it comes to technology or technical solutions," Gikopoulos said. "This journey of gradually moving over to the business side opposes the traditional CIO DNA."

In the coming years, the CIO will need to increasingly engage with the business side of the organization, to help the business quickly move from design to implementation of AI and other technological solutions, Gikopoulos said. The common language needed to act as this translator will be what drives enterprise value, he added.

"That's the only real thing that everybody within an organization can actually drill down to or try to speak in terms of, so anything and everything that is happening within the CIO role will have to be translated in terms of business value," Gikopoulos said.

Here are four things CIOs will need to do in 2019 to ensure their organization can take advantage of all AI has to offer in the future.

1. Acknowledge that AI will be an end-to-end journey

Many firms are trying to implement AI and automation solutions in chunks, which makes sense, as there is a huge amount of risk involved for most companies, Gikopoulos said. The problem is that these chunks tend to be built in layers, meaning they replace one part of a process instead of end-to-end, which means they have limited value.

Take customer service chatbots, for example: Many companies are adding chatbots into this process, but they can only do very rudimentary, FAQ-type support, Gikopoulos said. When the customer actually speaks to a human agent, they need to repeat their question, and this leads to frustration and makes the customer experience worse.

The CIO must take on the task of integrating these chunks into an end-to-end process, Gikopoulos said. "I believe that it's the CIO's role to make sure that he or she, as part of their involvement and their coordination with the business side of things, ensures that AI comes in vertical chunks rather than horizontal chunks," he added.

SEE: Research: Companies lack skills to implement and support AI and machine learning (Tech Pro Research)

2. Work with HR to reskill employees

Companies are seeking developers, data scientists, and solution architects to build in AI processes. However, demand for these professionals far outpaces supply.

"There's only so many people that we can get straight out of university and throw them into these heavy duty processes to manage end-to-end customer journeys," Gikopoulos said. "CIOs need to work very closely with the HR part of the organization and come up with retraining and repurposing."

CIOs can seek out individuals working in IT and the business side to internally train to become data scientists and solutions architects in the near term, Gikopoulos said. "I truly believe that the next generation of data scientists and solution architects are going to be 40-year-old, tenured people who are retrained and repurposed to do this type of activity," until colleges and the younger workforce can catch up, he added.

3. Spearhead smart technology investments

With all of the talk about technology development and investment, messaging about the path forward toward AI and automation in any organization needs to come from the CIO, Gikopoulos said.

"Technology is at a level right now that it can support, realize artificial intelligence and automation solutions. You just need to do it in the right way," Gikopoulos said. "It would take choosing the right process and the right tools. But the technology is there to provide substantial business value to the top and bottom line, when AI and automation are applied in the right processes and industries."

4. Lead the ethical discussion

There is a lot of talk about how humans can make sure machines, systems, and algorithms do not expose or take advantage of the information they are supplied with, Gikopoulos said.

"We're looking at this in completely the wrong way," he added. "We're trying to manage the aftermath that the bullet might cause once it has left the gun."

CIOs need to be extremely careful about what they plan do with AI before they begin using it, Gikopoulos said. This means taking into account potential issues with cybersecurity and biased algorithms.

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