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CIOs set the stage for an AI initiative, but they don't own it

CIOs may start an AI initiative, but they don't necessarily own it, according to Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. Instead, AI project ownership quickly spreads throughout an organization -- to sales, marketing, the business and even HR, said Kerravala at the recent AI World in Boston. Nonetheless, the role of the CIO in an AI initiative is substantial because they are responsible for addressing how to integrate AI in ways that augment -- rather than replace -- human work and convincing the CEO and the board of AI's business value, he said. In this video Q&A, Kerravala further discusses the CIO's role in an organization's AI project development.

Who within an organization should own an AI initiative?

Zeus Kerravala: The ownership of AI in a company is a bit of a strange question because there's no one owner. It's a little bit like asking a company back in the '90s, "who should own the internet strategy?" Initially, that was the CIO, but very quickly the CEO became involved, marketing became involved, sales became involved and even company leadership became involved.

I think what will happen with AI is it will initially be owned by a CIO, a chief digital officer or a CTO, but I think very quickly -- as it becomes more customer-facing -- you'll see marketing and sales get involved. As it becomes beneficial to employee productivity, I think you'll see HR get involved. AI is really more of a discipline within companies versus a specific technology. Ownership of it needs to be spread across the company, but initially, it'll be technology-driven.

What should CIOs focus on in 2018, when it comes to AI?

AI is really more of a discipline within companies versus a specific technology. Ownership of it needs to be spread across the company.

Kerravala: In 2018, what CIOs should be looking at for AI is just understanding how to integrate it within their company and trying to come up with the use cases. This is a crawl, walk, run scenario. We're not going to go from where we are today to being fully like Amazon overnight. Most CIOs have to be careful because there is a perception that AI is going to take jobs. It could create some uneasiness with the employees. I think the best way to bring it into a company is to have it augment what people are already doing

If I'm an inside salesperson, I would have the AI be able to give me more information that I can use to be more intelligent about the things that I'm saying versus having it replace certain parts of what I'm doing. I think that'll give the employees comfort that the AI is here as a tool to help me with my job, not to replace me. So in 2018, the CIO's goal should be to understand how AI can augment what's already going on, and then look to integrate it further as the years go by.

Do you have advice for CIOs on communicating the business potential of AI to the CEO or the board?

Kerravala: When IT leaders are putting their project plans together for this year and trying to gather funding for an AI initiative, I think the most important thing is to be realistic and to try and describe it in terms that matter to that organization.

For instance, AI can have great potential on the customer service side, and this is something all companies are battling. We know now that customer service is the top differentiator when it comes to brand loyalty. That's something the board cares about, that's something the CEO cares about. If the IT leader can explain it in those terms -- that companies that have used it have seen customer experience with a net promoter score grow by "X" percent, that's a great way to justify that purchase versus having something that maybe drives cost down -- which is interesting, but isn't really going to change the business.

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