Brian Solis

Generative AI won’t automate your way to business model innovation

Jun 21, 20238 mins
Artificial IntelligenceBusinessGenerative AI

Why now's the time to align IT and business strategy to thrive in an era of artificial intelligence

CIO | Middle East  >  Collaboration / teamwork / meeting / planning / strategy
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Generative AI is changing the world of work, with AI-powered workflows now slated to streamline customer service, employee experience, IT, and other fields. If we just slap the letters “GPT” to our efforts, everything will be right on track, right?


Integrating artificial intelligence into business has spawned enterprise-wide automation. One report estimates that 4,000 positions were eliminated by AI in May alone. I get it. Restructuring and automating are necessary parts of business survival. But as legendary Apple designer Jony Ive once advised Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky as the company mulled cuts, “You’re not going to cut your way to innovation.”

In 2022, companies were still reeling from the rapid digital transformation efforts to survive the pandemic. Then ChatGPT came along and changed everything again. Generative AI is already starting to power the day-to-day tools we use, inspire a new wave of intelligent applications, and even reimagine the world of enterprise software and the world of IT. Not since the iPhone have we witnessed a technology change the course of human behavior and the imagination of people everywhere practically overnight. Future-proofing work now becomes a mandate and an opportunity to innovate.

This is a time when businesses are required to do so much more with less. At the same time, the tech sector is facing a severe skills shortage, with The Financial Times reporting managers having a harder, not easier, time finding the talent they need despite all the headlines of layoffs.

To guide business leaders in how to reskill their employees and hire new tech talent, they will first need to understand what’s changing and why. New research published jointly between Pearson and ServiceNow found that AI is already affecting the tech skills needed for tomorrow’s work. The study’s data shows that as automation eliminates repetitive tasks, the pendulum will swing toward the distinctly human skills of communication, creativity, and analytical thinking. The more we design AI to do the work where it excels, the less humans will have to behave like machines.

But not even a ChatGPT super prompt will make progress or transformation easier. A response generated by AI won’t solve the real business challenges facing executives across the organization, either. A common but critical challenge I hear from CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs every day is that they have a difficult time helping the C-suite understand that IT is the very architecture for the future of business, not a cost center. How do you convince decision-makers to collaborate on linking IT strategy with business strategy?

Technology won’t solve (all) your problems

When avant-garde artist, composer, musician, and film director Laurie Anderson was named artist-in-residence at Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML), she mused about the role of AI in creative problem-solving. She recalled one of her favorite quotes by, of all people, her meditation teacher: “If you think technology will solve your problems, you don’t understand technology — and you don’t understand your problems.”

Her point is that AI or generative AI isn’t a silver bullet. She compared AI to the purpose of art, which made me think differently about the role then of AI and creativity in business transformation.

“When people say the purpose of art is to make the world a better place I always think: better for who?” Anderson said in the same Wired article. “If I had to use one word to describe art it would be freedom,” she continued. “I’m curious about whether this freedom can be translated or facilitated by AI in a meaningful way.”

The same can be said for digital and business transformation. If work and technology are to serve the purpose of making businesses better in this digital renaissance, the question is, better for who? And what does better look like? What makes it more meaningful?

Like automation, the prompts most of us are experimenting with are rooted in what we know. Thus, the problems we’re trying to solve are based on how we see them today. With a more open mind, creativity, and human ingenuity, we can reframe our problems and also pursue previously unforeseen opportunities.

It’s really up to you to define what the future of business looks like, how it works, and where it can go. That’s the thing about the future, it hasn’t happened yet.

In an era of AI-first business transformation, in addition to automation and elimination, AI becomes a force multiplier for growth. The more successful companies will augment and empower employees and reimagine roles with artificial intelligence to outperform everyone else.

This means that shaping the future of business starts with a new blueprint. Many things have to be created to support an organizational construct that’s being necessitated in real-time. Evolution in a time of Digital Darwinism also means that many things we do today are outmoded or obsolete and must be shed and left behind to survive and thrive.

Reinventing ourselves — with AI

What we need is to rethink our very understanding of how businesses operate and how technology transforms the organization for a new future. Technology leaders must now redefine their roles, beyond information technology, ITSM, and ITOM, to support dedicated imperatives that also simultaneously drive business innovation.

Just think, in less than 10 years, organizations were pushed to evolve from industrial-era operations to become digital-first, data-first, and now AI-first companies. Where will your business be in 10 years? Future-proofing the workforce begins with understanding the effect AI will have on the emerging skills employees need.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you fly over silos in order to identify targeted opportunities aimed at aligning technology investments and topline goals:

  1. Understand C-Suite perspectives: Start by gaining a deep understanding of the concerns and objectives of the decision-makers. Top of mind among business leaders about AI is governance and security. Understanding their concerns will help you tailor your approach to address their specific pain points and priorities.
  2. Speak their language: Frame your arguments in terms of business outcomes and financial benefits. Focus on how technology can directly impact revenue growth, customer experience, operational efficiency, and competitive advantage. Avoid technical jargon and use concrete examples and case studies.
  3. Align with business goals: Clearly articulate how IT initiatives can directly support the broader business objectives of the company and help gain competitive advantages. Identify specific areas where technology can enable growth, such as customer and employee experience, optimized operations, supply chain optimization, and data-driven decision-making.
  4. Create a joint business + IT roadmap: Develop a clear roadmap in sync with the company’s strategic objectives, focused on business impact. Show the short-term and long-term benefits, along with the associated costs and risks. Break down the plan into manageable phases and highlight quick wins that can demonstrate early success and generate momentum.
  5. Quantify the value: Use data and metrics to demonstrate the potential return on investment (ROI) of IT initiatives. Also spotlight the other side of ROI (return on ignorance). What’s the opportunity cost of not doing these things? Estimate the financial impact of improved efficiency, increased sales, reduced costs, or enhanced customer satisfaction.
  6. Foster collaboration: Emphasize the importance of collaboration between IT and other business functions. Demonstrate how these collaborations accelerate business objectives. Highlight that technology is an enabler for innovation and that a cross-functional approach can lead to better solutions. Encourage open dialogue, seek input from decision-makers, and involve them in the decision-making process to gain their ownership and support.
  7. Continuous communication: Maintain ongoing communication with the decision-makers to keep them informed about the progress, milestones, and outcomes of IT initiatives. Provide regular updates, reports, and presentations that highlight the value created by technology investments.

Starting over

Technology leadership augmented with AI will unite stakeholders who have traditionally been separated by functional specialization and technical limitations, using proven strategies for change management and silo-unifying technologies. To earn the attention of business decision-makers and link IT strategy with business strategy, technology leaders must connect the role and value of digital transformation in driving business transformation.

Henry Ford observed in 1922, “Many people are busy trying to find better ways of doing things that should not have to be done at all. There is no progress in merely finding a better way to do a useless thing.”

More than ever, companies simply cannot afford to waste resources at a time when bringing together digital and business transformation is the only way to keep up with the quickening pace of innovation. And you can’t automate your way out of outdated processes.