While AI has been around for a long time, it is only recently that more leaders seriously consider incorporating AI into their business operations. This is especially so with the rise of generative AI such as ChatGPT, which has shown that it can benefit various departments and does not require much formal training or technical know-how to be used.
A McKinsey study reveals that generative AI could enable automation of up to 70% of business activities between now and 2030, adding trillions of dollars in value to the global economy. To help realise this, tech giants are increasingly infusing generative AI into their existing solutions or creating new ones supporting that technology.
Google is integrating its AI assistant technology, Duet AI, into Google Cloud and Workspace to help improve employee productivity. For instance, a human resource professional can key in the job position they are recruiting under the “Help me write” feature in Google Docs (powered by Duet AI) to automatically generate the corresponding job description, which can be customised to the company.
IBM plans to roll out watsonx Code Assistant later this year to help developers of all skills be more productive. The feature — part of watsonx, IBM’s AI and data platform — leverages generative AI to modernise COBOL to Java, making it easier for developers to write code with AI-generated recommendations.
Taking charge of AI
Besides the wide availability of AI tools today, harnessing the full value of AI requires leaders to redesign jobs, rethink how they organise their workforce, and build an organisational culture that supports AI implementation.
“With the speed of AI, it may be more pertinent for companies to decide how to organise working teams for better AI use, to get small wins to build expertise, rather than debate where AI should be hosted. The impact of AI will differ based on where it sits in the organisation — be it in marketing, data or as a separate function altogether. We believe the best practice is to adopt the agile methodology, which emphasises continuous collaboration and improvement. This empowers organisations to try multiple approaches, learn and improve,“ Nick Chia, managing director of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, shares with DigitalEdge.
Unless the CEO understands AI at an in-depth level — from ethics and data privacy surrounding the use of AI to the more technical aspects of it — Chia thinks someone from the leadership team should take the lead on AI.
[The leader] should help the organisation determine what is possible and which business imperatives have the biggest payback with AI. As with any technological enabler, the leader needs to be able to think about [the benefits AI can bring to their] business processes and value chains to improve business results.
Nick Chia, managing director, Russell Reynolds Associates
Frank Koo, head of Asia for talent and learning solutions at LinkedIn, echoes the same sentiment. “We are seeing chief technology and information officers increasingly taking on data and AI responsibilities for their organisations. But since AI covers every business function, business leaders can work with their respective team leads to identify opportunities and challenges and implement an organisation-wide roadmap for AI readiness,” he states.
Learning and development leaders, he adds, are uniquely positioned to effectively upskill employees to ensure all employees are ready to use AI in their day-to-day work. He explains: “Focusing on a skills-first approach will prepare employees to harness new AI skills to contribute effectively to the organisation’s overall AI strategy and grow their careers. This includes helping every employee understand AI, build business-critical AI skills and learn how to collaborate with AI to drive better outcomes. From a learning perspective, we also see many companies leveraging e-learning and online platforms to enable employees with a foundational understanding of AI.”
Allaying the fear of an AI takeover
Although we have been told numerous times that AI will only augment jobs, many are still concerned that the technology will make their jobs irrelevant. Koo likens this situation to the time when the Internet first gained popularity. “When the Internet became more mainstream in the 1990s, it was viewed as threatening many jobs and companies. But while some jobs were lost, new jobs were also created. When we look back today, the Internet has helped people grow their skills and create opportunities for companies. I believe the same is true for AI,” shares Koo.
To allay fears of job insecurity, Chia advises leaders and employees to shift their mentality away from focusing on their contribution to the work process or flow and instead focus more on how they can make a greater contribution to their organisation’s impact.
“Utilisation of tools such as AI may help employees save valuable time on their tasks, freeing up time for them to focus on other tasks. This, in turn, allows them to contribute to the output of their companies at a higher level than before. We need to start shifting our focus on how AI can allow us to have a greater impact on the output of organisations, allowing us either to create the same amount of impact at, for example, half the amount of effort or putting in the same amount of effort and generating twice the impact,” he explains.
To stay ahead of the latest tech trends, click here for DigitalEdge Section
Organisations must also be willing to help their employees upskill to keep up with emerging technology. “But this must be grounded in a history of actual action. It will not be effective if leaders only say that upskilling will happen but no programmes are implemented. Employees will only begin to see that new tools like AI are here to help them, not replace them, when there is constant upskilling through various programmes,” says Chia.
On the other hand, Koo points out that organisations must instil a learning culture that embraces experimentation and innovation.
[Doing so will] empower workers to familiarise themselves with ways AI can help them in the workplace. An effective AI strategy will only see its full potential if all employees are equipped with the confidence and skill sets to use AI at work effectively.
Frank Koo, head of Asia for talent and learning solutions, LinkedIn
Agreeing on the need for experimentation, Chia recommends organisations to “start small”, such as implementing AI tools within small groups and small projects to create a proof-of-concept to determine the best ways to utilise AI tools in the workplace. He says: “Successes through this method will then create positive word-of-mouth within organisations that AI does help employees. Employees will then be more inclined to believe colleagues who have had positive experiences using AI, which may be the key factor behind true acceptance and utilisation of AI within companies.”
Since AI is a business enabler, non-IT employees should also be trained to use the most popular tools and software as tech tools are changing quickly, says Prof Pierre Alquier, professor of Statistics at Essec Business School Asia-Pacific. He also highlights the need to train workers to use AI safely, as the technology is still nascent and can bring about potential threats or unwanted impacts.
Universities and business schools should teach their students how to use AI tools and how they work. The core principles of AI should no longer only be taught to computer science students; it is necessary to train workers to use AI safely and efficiently.
Prof Pierre Alquier, professor of Statistics, Essec Business School Asia-Pacific
AI can automate manual and technical tasks, but the technology can still not take on tasks requiring skills that only humans can perform. This is why Koo insists people skills such as creative thinking, leadership and communication, and ensuring ethical outcomes will become more valuable as AI becomes pervasive in the workplace.
He adds: “In LinkedIn’s recent survey, some of the top-ranked soft skills in Singapore perceived to become more important as AI tools become more widely used include problem-solving, adaptability and resilience, and strategic thinking. The importance of such skills cannot be overstated, enabling us to consider various contextual factors in collaborative environments or while making complex decisions aided by AI.”
According to Chia, Asia Pacific’s (Apac) openness and inherent optimism will position the region uniquely in the journey towards an AI-driven future. “Apac organisations can leverage and engage with this innate optimism to take the lead in developing and using new technologies like AI through more Asia-specific models, rather than waiting for Western companies to take the lead. For example, the average revenue per user for telecom companies in Asia is lower than in the US, but it is made up for volume and the sale of value-added services. This is made possible because of the rate of technology adoption within the region — in Asia, more people use their smartphones more than their laptops or computers in their daily lives compared to the West. Organisations can look to this willingness to consider new things and use this to their benefit,” he says.
Given AI’s capabilities, it will be impossible for organisations to survive and remain competitive in the digital economy without it. But this calls for changes in terms of how organisations traditionally work. “To attract and retain top talent, for instance, hiring managers will need to focus less on traditional proxies like degrees and more on finding talent whose current skills match the role while ensuring that existing employees are given ample opportunities to develop these skills. By adopting a skills-first mindset, companies will benefit from a wider talent pool amid a competitive labour market,” says Koo.
He continues: “I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a growth mindset. Don’t shy away from new technologies; instead, pick up the knowledge and know-how to use these technologies to help you with your daily tasks. Also, pick up new skills that are in demand and will set you up for success in the future world of work. Finally, hone your soft skills because these will become increasingly important. For business leaders, adopt a skills-first approach to hiring and developing talent. This will help your organisation to remain agile and pivot when needed because you will have the talent and skills to help you do so.”