The CIO’s guide to empowering the workforce for the generative AI era

By Naveen Zutshi, CIO, Databricks.

  • Friday, 10th May 2024 Posted 1 week ago in by Phil Alsop

Today, a quarter (24%) of workers are worried that AI will make their jobs obsolete. This trend, dubbed “AI anxiety,” has been on the rise within the workforce since the start of the current generative AI boom. It refers not to AI broadly but specifically highlights a gap in how generative AI is perceived by senior leaders and the wider workforce. Senior leaders believe in the power of generative AI and see limitless potential for efficiency gains - its application across enterprise technology has only grown and so has enthusiasm among leaders.  From the perspective of employees, however, some may feel threatened by generative AI, questioning whether it will automate their jobs to a point where they are no longer needed.

 

Faced with this challenge, CIOs are responsible for communicating their vision on generative AI - outlining that its adoption will empower - employees and liberate them from time-consuming tasks to focus on higher value areas of insight, strategy, and business value. Doing so can align perceptions of generative AI more closely and ensure that organisations’ appetite for the technology does not come at the expense of their workforce.

 

Generative AI - hero or villain?

 

The workforce must start thinking of generative AI as a friend rather than a foe. And this starts with recognising where it can bring value and deliver ROI, particularly compared with other tools. For instance, robotic process automation (RPA) and low code/no code tools have been in place for a long time in many organisations, and yet they’ve seen limited effectiveness. Generative AI, by comparison, has the potential to adapt to changing business processes much faster, ultimately leading to more informed decision making. In customer services, for example, AI has the power to recognise and remember common customer complaints and flag these to a human agent – bolstering the department’s ability to resolve issues before they arise. 

 

Advancements in AI and ML have led to greater innovation for many years, enabling organisations to automate everything from back-office tasks in enterprises, predictive maintenance in manufacturing, demand forecasting at retailers or fraud altering for financial organisations. 88% of global technology executives surveyed in a recent MIT Technology Review Insights report stated they have already started to invest in generative AI, further giving their stamp of approval.

 

And this doesn’t even account for how much more efficiently generative AI can handle a company’s big data. Generative AI can quickly capture relevant data for analysis within a lakehouse or other data management platform and draw insights from it that can be used to power business decisions and mitigate risks. Generative AI can find new patterns and detect anomalies in data that can be used to propel the business forward. Humans are playing an instrumental role in how generative AI is implemented because they must oversee training data and ML algorithms for accuracy, bias, and safety risks. 

 

Democratising technical capabilities for all

 

Generative AI has been the first major step in AI democratisation. The evolution of generative AI tools allows this knowledge to be distributed across the workforce and utilised by those even without a strong technical background. This means that the wide range of benefits offered by generative AI can be spread to more business functions than ever thought possible. Workers can be upskilled to leverage predictive tools, as well as low code/no code software that can be used by those without a strong background in coding. Democratising access to these resources can have an immeasurable impact on a business, particularly amidst the data science skills gap that many organisations are experiencing. 

 

However, for some organisations this remains a challenge. Training or upskilling workers to use data and AI platforms is a pain point for 40% of executives surveyed in the recent MIT Technology Review Insights report. To mitigate this challenge, leaders need to develop strategic use cases, build innovation, and find ways to make generative AI tools true co-pilots to their employees. CIOs need to develop a culture of broad idea generation, through approaches such as cross-functional hackathons, regular demos, encourage experimentation, and cultivate learning across the organisation. This can capture the imagination of employees, enabling them to investigate ways to solve common problems in their work through generative AI and giving them a platform to share their ideas. By empowering employees to participate, they can become actively involved in the decision-making process within the business instead of worrying about the technology leaving them behind - or potentially changing the nature of their jobs. 

 

Empowering employees for generative AI-enabled workflows

 

CIOs have a responsibility to inform the workforce about how impending technological advancements will impact them and their job roles. And with any big company changes, it is all about communication. As the power of generative AI continues to diffuse through the wider workforce, the issue of AI anxiety will always factor into the discussion. CIOs must listen to employees, addressing their concerns and taking any feedback on board during the AI planning process. Simultaneously, CIOs should continue to actively engage employees in the process of incorporating generative AI into their work, democratising its power across the organisation. When generative AI is effectively scaled across different business functions, the capacity for innovation and increased efficiencies will be unrivalled. 

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