Is it time to install a Chief AI Officer?

Pick any tech trend that takes business by storm—the Internet, smartphones, mobile applications—and what initially started as hype, which we now recognize is vastly understated. Today, you could add generative AI to that list.

As organizations scramble to incorporate GenAI into their portfolios, industry experts are calling for corporate boards to appoint a leader who can command these critical technologies.

I’m of course talking about a chief AI officer, or CAIO. Ideally, the CAIO will stay abreast of emerging AI technologies, cultivate an AI strategy, and ensure that AI implementations align with business goals. These articles further enumerate the role’s considerable remit.

You may be thinking: The C-suite already feels like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The last thing we need is another officer. And that’s a fair point.

Yet the CAIO position merits serious consideration because GenAI’s rise has democratized AI capabilities across business lines—in every organization.

Before GenAI there was…AI

Most of your IT organizations have probably been using some form of AI software for years. Various smart apps may automate tedious tasks, anticipate patterns in supply chains, logistics, and operations, and even protect your data from malicious actors.

In fact, well before OpenAI opened the floodgates with ChatGPT almost a year ago, Gartner forecasted the worldwide AI software market would top $135 billion by 2025. Such software runs the gamut between SaaS analytics tools business users can consume to more sophisticated machine learning technologies data scientists and other staff with special training in algorithms use to make predictions.

With GenAI, anyone can consume AI tools to create content. And because those tools are so user-friendly, they will become pervasive throughout enterprises and will most likely transform virtually every business process served by content.

This makes the total addressable market vastly larger than Gartner’s pre-GenAI figures. McKinsey, for one, estimates GenAI will add 2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion of economic value to the global economy. That covers 63 use cases across everything from sales and marketing to customer operations and software engineering.

The financial stakes alone warrant a discussion about whether your organization should install a CAIO.

Centralize vs. distribute

Reasonable people have argued that the pervasiveness of AI in businesses means you should not centralize management vis-a-vis an AI Center of Excellence or even a leader to steer AI tech initiatives. That doing so would stymie innovation because AI is proliferating so rapidly. These folks believe in distributing AI across business lines, with each group dictating use cases and rules.

Why would you not let a thousand flowers bloom, the thinking goes. That may (or may not) have served businesses well before, but GenAI flips the script because of its ability to democratize access to content creation and business insights. A thousand flowers? More like the Gardens of Versailles.

GenAI changes the equation because of the risks it courts ushering in “shadow AI” that leaves enterprises susceptible in ways that their C-suite leaders cannot fully anticipate. The Big One: Data leakage of sensitive IP, which could become someone else’s IP if it finds its way into a public GenAI system.

Thanks in large part to GenAI, the centralization approach appears to be gaining traction, as 80% of 500 IT decision makers have centralized AI decision making or even created a COE, according to a Dell Technologies survey of 500 IT decision makers.

Make room in the C-suite

Of course, the flip side to the CAIO argument is that businesses simply don’t need one.

Gartner’s Peer Community members’ complaints range from concerns about swelling executive ranks (too many cooks in the kitchen) to the argument that AI should remain decentralized.

To those people, I say this: With traditional AI solutions driving decision-making in the back of the house and new GenAI tools augmenting work in the front of the house organizations no longer have the luxury of leaving the garden unattended.

At best, your organization will potentially miss out on building business value. At worst, it’s bad risk hygiene for your data and your IP.

A CAIO would hammer out a strategy for consuming both GenAI and traditional AI, instituting policies and guardrails that align business usage with acceptable risks.

Ideally, the individual would ensure that the organization brings AI to its data, capitalizing on real-time insights while safeguarding IP. And taking the lead in identifying and eliminating algorithmic bias.

Installing a CAIO may be the best move for mitigating business risk you’ll ever make. Doesn’t that prospect alone warrant serious consideration?

Learn how Dell Generative AI Solutions help you bring AI to your data.

1 Generative AI Pulse Survey, Dell Technologies, Sept. 2023

Artificial Intelligence