by Michael Zammuto

How artificial intelligence is changing the CIO’s role

Mar 08, 2018
Artificial IntelligenceCIOIT Leadership

Disruptive technologies are making CIOs play a more prominent role than ever.

artificial intelligence / machine learning / binary code / virtual brain
Credit: Thinkstock

The role of the Chief Information Officer has grown over the years. The disruptive potential of artificial intelligence, Internet of things and rapidly developing robotics technologies mean the role should become even high profile and strategic. CIOs at large enterprises must be prepared to play a more central role in their organization.

They key to successful leadership in the digital age is to accept and embrace the changes and improvements that new technology brings. Leaders are not immune to AI technology. As these technologies are integrated into the workplace, their role will change just like everyone else’s in the organization. That’s why it’s important to be prepared and ready for the new reality.

Relying on the strength of others

Post-war, 1940s and 1950s managers adopted military-style, top-down leadership styles and expected deference to authority. They knew what was best for the organization and often paid little attention to the skills of others when making decisions.

That type of thinking has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Today’s leaders at large enterprises have to rely on the expertise of their employees, as the world of business is simply too complex for everyone to have all the answers.

Counting on the expert knowledge of other team members is even more crucial for the modern CIO. Information technology tools are constantly changing and advancing with the introduction of AI systems. A good CIO is well aware that junior members of the team may have vital expertise and they’re ready to put these skills to work for the overall benefit of the organization.

Responding to a changing environment

In decades gone by leaders stubbornly stuck with a course of action even when it may not have been in the best interests of their organization. They believed this showed resolute leadership and strength. The results were often disastrous. Fortunately, this type of thinking has been purged from most modern organizations.

No leader in an organization must be more willing to adapt to change than the CIO. The rapid expansion of AI technology in the workplace is creating an ever-changing environment for IT departments. Their role in the organization is more important than ever and they must be ready to respond to new realities if their organization is going to survive.

The AI revolution is not about providing tools to workers any more, it is about creating a new type of organization. The role model to follow is Amazon who has, so far, been able to apply its formula of automation plus innovation plus data-driven everything to seemingly unrelated business problems.

For a technology organization to fully realize the benefits of these technologies, it will require greater insights into the organization than ever before. But these wont all come from machine learning and analytics on big datasets. Employees and leaders from all corners of the enterprise hold in their heads critical information and CIOs need to be visible, collaborative evangelists for integrating that know-how into systems.

It isn’t always easy to respond quickly to change – especially when it contradicts the prevailing wisdom in place. The CIO can’t be worried about their own pride – they have to be willing to do whatever is best for the overall goals of the organization and rally converts from other business disciplines and organizations. We’re only just beginning to grasp how AI may change the workplace of the future. There’s little doubt that a lot more change is in the cards.

In it for the long term

Agility is not at odds with the critical need for a vision for the enterprise. Companies can and should have long-term goals. The Chief Information Officer just must be willing to use every tool at their disposal to get there, knowing that technology will evolve while you implement it. That’s the only way the modern business enterprise can succeed.

Constant change is the new norm. Emerging technologies like AI may look very different in a few years. The reality is we can’t be sure exactly what that will mean for the organization, but we can be sure it will be important. That won’t change the future vision of the company.

Technological innovators such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had clear vision for their companies, but that doesn’t mean they knew the exact path that would get them there. They were ready for change and they embraced it.

Involving everyone

There are going to be challenges along the way. The modern role of the CIO is of vital importance to the organization and that can create a stressful environment. Change is never easy, especially as job destructions continues to accelerate. Business fiefdoms will collapse as the dynamic of how business is conducted is rebuilt and it will be the CIOs job to help keep people at all levels on board. The important thing is to keep everyone involved in the process. AI technology can help with this.

Machine learning programs can be used to constantly poll and evaluate key performance indictors including the signs of employee engagement and productivity. This will allow leaders to stay in tune with their organization and make adjustments when necessary. Instead of reducing the role of human employees, AI technology can actually give them a greater influence on a company’s direction and growth.