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Do you need a Chief AI Officer?

As artificial intelligence technologies become more widespread in business, is now the time to hire a CAIO?

Do you need a Chief AI Officer?

Artificial intelligence has quickly gone from a buzzword to a revolutionary force in businesses across virtually all sectors, but major challenges are set to hamper the full innovative potential of advanced AI solutions.

A recent report from analytics firm Teradata saw 91% of respondents say there are still barriers to full AI realisation, with 40% of respondents believing a lack of IT infrastructure will slow adoption and a further 34% saying lack of access to talent will also be an issue.

Chief Technology Officers are leading the implementation of AI solutions at most large enterprises but as the transformative power of AI becomes better known, major companies, including tech giant Google, and Citadel, the multibillion-dollar hedge fund, are hiring Chief AI Officers (CAIOs) to exploit the transformative benefits of AI technologies.

CAIOs will be able to introduce cutting-edge tools across the entire business, as AI is on course to fundamentally alter all manner of critical business processes.

Exploiting data

But what does a CAIO offer to businesses that a CTO or CIO doesn’t and do all companies need one? “The CAIO can bridge the gap between technology, business process and business outcome,” explains Luca Primerano, CAIO at anti-money laundering specialist Fortytwo Data.

“I see the CTO and CAIO working together to continuously improve business profitability, with the CAIO being called in to solve critical business issues involving data, process and customers, and working closely with the CIO to implement AI solutions within the company’s technical landscape.”

The importance of effectively utilising data to discover actionable business insights cannot be overstated. Globally, 53% of companies now use big data analytics, up from just 17% in 2015, according to Dresner Advisory Services, but the full value of this data will not be capitalised unless there is a clear AI strategy in place.

CAIOs can bring a new perspective to the C-suite by offering a strong voice for AI solutions that can better forecast sales, boost retention levels and improve customer service, as well as assisting in monetising data to create new revenue streams.


Why are some companies hesitating in hiring a CAIO?

Despite the growing interest in AI technologies and their application to all areas of business, only 8% of large companies currently employ a CAIO.

Whether due to difficulty finding the right talent or simply not having developed a comprehensive AI plan, many businesses are missing out on the benefits a CAIO can bring to their operations.

“Unfortunately, the role of AI is underestimated in many companies and domains, but in the near future, we will definitely see more and more CAIO or similar positions. As a company’s strategy and direction involves the need for in-depth AI, there lies the need for such a position,” explains Yury Gubman, head of AI at Knowmail, a start-up working to optimise email management.

Complex skillset

Hiring the right CAIO requires more than just finding a highly skilled data scientist, with an ideal candidate possessing strong knowledge of the latest innovations in AI and leadership skills suitable for a C-suite executive.

In practice, this combination of talents is difficult to find, especially when staff with AI expertise are already in high demand. The urge to quickly employ a CAIO, so as not to fall behind competitors, is a course of action businesses should avoid.

62% of companies with a global revenue of more than US$50 million a year are planning to hire a Chief AI Officer within the next two years.

This is because an unsuitable CAIO who cannot carry out their responsibilities has the potential to cause unnecessary conflicts in the C-suite. Hire in haste, repent at leisure.

It may be the case that some companies initially have a CAIO report directly to the CTO or CIO, allowing the exact responsibilities of each role to be established, depending on each company’s different circumstances.

“What’s unique about AI is the need to ingrain it in the very fabric of the business, bottling the enterprise IP across sales, marketing, operations and procurement. For that reason, the most effective CAIOs will need to cultivate political skills to influence the business decisions of their C-suite peers. Companies that see AI as a long-term competitive advantage of their business should put their AI suite and capability at such a level of importance that it commands a C-suite role,” concludes Phil Westcott, managing director of AI agency Filament.

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