Generative AI has consumed a lot of media and business oxygen this year, and rightly so. Not only are its capabilities novel and impressive, but it might be the biggest leap in the “consumerization” of information technology since the emergence of the iPhone in 2007. Anyone with a browser can create content, sound, and images with AI — artificial intelligence in the hands of the masses! Business leaders are eager to understand the impact, good and bad, that it will have on their organizations.
But while all eyes are on generative AI, practice marches forward in other areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation. Taking advantage of the opportunities and meeting new challenges requires business leaders to apply their skills and attention to leadership, strategy, talent development, and change management.
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For instance, while automating procurement negotiations offers significant benefits, including lowering costs and increasing the pool of qualified suppliers, stakeholders can be leery if they’re not brought along in the right way. In their article “Procurement in the Age of Automation,” scholars Remko Van Hoek and Mary Lacity draw on years of research and the experiences of companies as different as Maersk, Walmart, and Walker’s Shortbread. They offer six evidence-based practices to address concerns of business unit leaders, buyers, and suppliers; overcome stakeholder resistance; and ensure that investments in automation technology pay off.
While automating procurement negotiations offers significant benefits, stakeholders can be leery if they’re not brought along in the right way.
In “Using Federated Machine Learning to Overcome the AI Scale Disadvantage,” authors Yannick Bammens and Paul Hünermund explain how “small data” organizations can train and use sophisticated machine learning models while preserving privacy. By joining forces with other entities and using decentralized data, they can gain the benefits of larger data sets. Yes, the technology is what makes this work, but the real challenge for business leaders is to orchestrate the work among partners, secure their buy-in, and offer the right incentives.
Authors Ian Barkin and Thomas H. Davenport bring us solidly back to the idea that AI is no longer the exclusive domain of technologists, software engineers, and IT departments, in their article “Harnessing Grassroots Automation.” Companies in a variety of industries are training less-technical employees to automate the mundane, repetitive, and time-consuming parts of their jobs and improve their own work experience. The training is relatively straightforward, with employees learning to use low-code and no-code technologies. The tricky part is deciding how to set up, organize, support, and manage these new citizen automation programs. The article outlines the strategies some companies are using to manage this new movement.
The upshot is that business leaders must stay on top of fast-moving technology developments, particularly around AI and automation. At the same time, they must do what business leaders have always done: Lead. This includes developing a strategy to take advantage of the opportunities while mitigating the risks; setting up the right structures to support new programs or collaborate with partners; training people to learn and apply new skills; engaging with stakeholders; and managing change. And when it comes to the dramatic power of AI and automation, it is incumbent on all leaders to seriously consider how the choices they make today will affect not just their balance sheets but all of the humans in their orbit — especially their employees.