IPsoft Digital Workforce SummitWhen it comes to deploying Artificial Intelligence (AI) within an enterprise, the conversation is shifting to questions about which specific AI strategies will lead to maximum impact. This was the premise of an insightful “AI and Business Excellence” panel discussion moderated by IPsoft Chief Commercial Officer Jonathan Crane during the annual Digital Workforce Summit (DWS).

Crane was joined by Shridhar Karale, VP of Strategy, Innovation and Business Process Excellence at Becton Dickinson; Jennifer Hewit, Head of User Experience Strategy at Bank of America; Bhupesh Trivedi, Application Delivery Director at AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company; and James Bell, General Manager for Integrated Global Services at Long View Systems. Each panelist has vast experience spearheading AI initiatives in large organizations, and used the session to discuss the business challenges they encountered and the strategies they used to overcome them.

First Steps

The companies that have already started their AI journeys have secured a discernable advantage over the companies that have yet to do so. This notion was summarized early in the discussion by Trivedi who said that “automation and AI are not a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity.” He then advised the 600-plus attendees on how businesses that are running behind can devise taking their first steps. As with any grand journey, the first step is identifying your objective and laying out a plan for getting there.

“You align with your vision, mission statement with your company objective,” he said. “Whatever we do is for the company’s objective… you see what exact objective you want to achieve from a business perspective, and then you align your automation strategy across the board.”

This sentiment was shared by Karale who said that “sometimes people get very excited about technology per se, but it is all about the business research and business outcomes you are trying to drive in your organization. And the clear linkage between the organization’s strategy and what you’re trying to apply the technology [to address] has to be established. That’s really, really important.”

“This is not a short-term [project], it’s a long-term journey and you have to have good start and stakeholder engagement right at the front.”

— Shridhar Karale, VP of Strategy, Innovation and Business Process Excellence, Becton Dickinson

Karale went on to discuss the importance of securing buy-in from leadership, because as with any new undertaking, there is a necessary transition period before any organization finds their footing with new technology. “The first couple of months our journey was pretty rocky,” Karale explained. “In the first six months, as a science experiment in a big corporation, [it] can get crushed very easy. So having that partnership and stakeholder engagement is extremely important part of your goal.”

“This is not a short-term [project], it’s a long-term journey and you have to have good start and stakeholder engagement right at the front,” he said.

The panelists also discussed the importance of creating a robust internal Cognitive Center of Excellence (CCoE) to oversee AI development and implementation (you can read more about CCoE strategies here and here). When it comes to forming a CCoE, companies should always keep in mind that AI – particularly cognitive AI solutions like Amelia — are designed to interact with humans, so they should seek to include skillsets that will help build quality human engagements.

“If you haven’t got leadership from the top who are encouraging you to take some risks and drive change, then the competency center won’t be able to deliver.”

— Jennifer Hewit, Head of User Experience Strategy, Bank of America

“As I’ve established Centers of Excellence, I’ve really thought about bringing in humanistic skills and not just thinking about solving a technology problem, but thinking about solving a human problem,” Hewit said. “I’ve obviously brought in technologists, but I’ve also brought in skills like neuroscience, psychology and more of those arts skills, so that we can ensure that the technology we’re implementing can really attract our humans to use it.”

The New Workforce

While a successful AI implementation depends on leaders who are capable of managing up (that is, to secure executive buy-in to overcome initial challenges), companies will also need to manage the expectations and transitions of the workers underneath them. This includes conveying all the opportunities that come with an AI implementation.

“Our employees went from fearing a project like this to really embracing it, because what they understood was they were going to be given an opportunity to retrain, to do more interesting work.”

— James Bell, General Manager for Integrated Global Services, Long View Systems

“One of the key things we did right off the bat was align the charter of this project to part of our mission statement and our commitment to our employees,” Bell explained. “Our employees went from fearing a project like this to really embracing it, because what they understood was they were going to be given an opportunity to retrain, to do more interesting work, to not have to do the mundane Level 1, Level 2 tasks that we ask of operational people day in and day out.”

Not only can AI transform the way that companies are organized, it allows them to emphasize different attributes in their workforce. “I recently hired somebody who was a musician on a cruise ship, but they had grit and they had enthusiasm and they had willingness to learn,” said Hewit. “I often don’t look at CVs — I want to talk to the person, I want to understand if they’ve got passion to want to drive change and change the world and use disruptive technology to enhance productivity our users.”

“Automation and AI are not a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity.”

— Bhupesh Trivedi, Application Delivery Director, AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company

 

This idea was echoed by Karale who said that “there are two types of skillsets: aptitude and attitude… Aptitude is a component which can be adapted [and trained, however] what is more important is the attitude component — how do you create that positive attitude within the organization. It’s probably the most important part.”

AI has the potential to completely transform how companies do business, and many are looking for guidance from the AI pioneers that made the journey before them. “And that’s our responsibility as leaders to encourage that, right?” Hewit asked her fellow panelists, who agreed wholeheartedly. “If you haven’t got leadership from the top who are encouraging you to take some risks and drive change, then the competency center won’t be able to deliver.”

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