CIOs and AI: Navigating the Challenges and Opportunities

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Cathleen Southwick, CIO at Pure Storage, has provided strategic IT leadership for multibillion-dollar businesses. She has expertise in a broad range of areas, including technology strategy and roadmaps. 

Previously, Cathleen spent 22 years at AT&T, most recently as vice president of technology engineering.

IDG recently sat down with Cathleen Southwick, CIO at Pure Storage®, to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that artificial intelligence (AI) poses for CIOs, and how they can best introduce this transformative technology in their companies.

Do you think the adoption and impact of AI will compare in some ways to that of cloud computing?

I think AI will be even more transformative, because it will directly impact higher-end issues, complexities, and analytics. In some ways, cloud – especially hybrid cloud – will serve as an enabler for AI. AI itself is all about helping you better understand your business and make better business decisions – all at a faster pace than what has been possible before.

What are some of the main decisions CIOs must make when introducing AI solutions into their organizations?

It starts with the knowledge that AI won’t solve all your problems. You need to be prescriptive about where it will have the most impact. That means knowing where you want to go with the technology, and what end state you want to achieve. Is it just to gain some experience with AI, or is it to create better customer experiences, make better and faster business decisions, or achieve some other business goal? Once you’ve established these table stakes, you have to start thinking about things from more than just a systems perspective. It’s deeper than that. It starts with what your data looks like, and what your data strategy is. In fact, when Pure Storage worked with MIT Technology Review to survey 2,300 global business and IT leaders, we found that 83% expected AI to significantly alter the way organizations think about and process data. The holy grail is to define a strong data strategy, because AI won’t work if you don’t have good data management. Many companies will have data on-premise, in private clouds, and in third-party clouds. For AI to be successful, you need to be able to access and move data across all of those environments in a seamless fashion, without a lot of starts and stops.

What are some first steps for CIOs to consider as they adopt AI?

You need to start small, educate yourself and your teams, and mature their skill sets as needed. One good approach is to ask yourself if there are things you can do with AI internally, within the IT organization. In that way, you can serve as a guinea pig, honing your skills and implementing some solution that you can then showcase to the business units. The IT organization is a strategic partner to the business units, and is typically very cost sensitive because it isn’t directly generating revenue. Fortunately, IT is very data heavy – we capture all kinds of events, tickets, and logs. Because of that, IT is in some ways almost the prime area to start AI trials, since there’s so much data to analyze. Also, Operations is a bit more contained within IT than in the business units, whose work often spans multiple areas and whose data lives across many applications. So there are definitely opportunities for CIOs to set up internal AI applications. Then they can go to the business units and say, “Here’s how we think AI could help your business, and let us show you what that might look like.” 

For more information on Pure Storage and its data management and AI-enablement capabilities, click here.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.