Everyone these days seems to have a plan for AI. Or at least, they plan to mention it as often as possible in press releases and briefings to analysts. Paying lip service to AI is a dangerous distraction and a missed opportunity. A few may be fooled for a while - but unless you do the hard work now to reimagine what you do, you are likely to be left behind as we shift into a new era of AI-powered competition.
What has become abundantly clear in the current pandemic is that there is a widening divide between organizations pursuing a course of digital incrementalism and those that are truly embracing digital transformation. Figuring out how to engage and serve your customers and clients on digital channels was a smart move. So was rapidly enabling your employees to work remotely with the right collaboration tools. Unfortunately, all of that is just table stakes.
As a leader, the real question you should be asking yourself is: what is possible now in this new age of machine intelligence that wasn't possible before? It could be the creation of entirely new data-driven products, serving entirely new customer segments or markets, or utilizing automation to unleash the full potential of your backend operations.
There is a divergence between organizations evolving in the current crisis, and those that are merely treading water. As research for my latest article in the Harvard Business Review, I spoke to Harit Talwar, Global Head of Consumer (Marcus by Goldman Sachs), and Mike Dargan, Group Chief Information Officer at UBS. In different ways, both organizations have been investing heavily in AI, algorithms, and automation. Their stories provide valuable lessons in the art of transformation and big thinking.
Here are the key takeaways from the piece:
- The increased use of AI and automation during the pandemic and forthcoming economic crisis will accelerate the transformation of the workforce. Job polarization is a serious risk for both inequality and the future of work.
- Innovative organizations and leaders are not standing still. Companies like Goldman Sachs and UBS are leveraging their brands, relationships, and technology to redefine their customers' experiences and fully leverage themselves as platforms.
- Technology is important, but even more critical is extreme customer-centricity and the ability to solve customer problems at scale.
- AI's real value is not cutting costs or jobs, but finding better things for talented people to do. You need to be clear about the kind of work machines should do, and where humans add the most value.
- Moving to an agile team structure requires leaders to carefully balance tactical goals with a long term vision of the future. Expect a widening gap between those organizations that can figure out new ways of working and engaging their customers - and those that don't.
I think you will find these two case studies interesting - especially if you are involved in thinking about digital transformation or your organization's future. I would welcome your thoughts and any stories about your own experiences.