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  • Mary-Ellen Mayoh

Bringing Humanity Back to Work – How AI Can Help to Make Work More Humane

When I talk about automation and AI with businesses around Asia, I’ve observed that the most enthusiastic audiences are those from lines of business like HR, Finance, and Operations. Leaders of these business functions tend to quickly see automation and AI as a key to the future with jobs that support and take the load off their people. When they see how easy it is to install and now deploy AI, as well as the immediate and quantifiable benefits after doing so, they’re all for adding this new form of employment to their teams.

At the same time, I’ve noticed that the most resistance to AI & automation tends to come from IT. That’s not surprising, nor is it unjustified – IT has more experiences, often challenging ones, with the introduction of any new technology into the business. The days of “shadow IT” still loom large in the consciousness of many CIOs, I’m sure. But it does highlight to me a potential opportunity for IT to shift gears on how it addresses technology in the organisation.

From Gatekeeper to Governor

Most IT teams operate according to the principle that anything technological should be under their control. My thirty years in enterprise IT would suggest there was ample reason for this principle in the past, given the complexity and scale of traditional IT infrastructure. However, times have changed – both in respect to the technologies being adopted, and the attitudes other lines of business have towards them. In the case of a revolutionary technology like AI for example, what’s being adopted is not so much a new technology as it is an entirely different way of sourcing, hiring, and applying talent – which just so happens to be in a digital form.

IT has an opportunity to shift from being technology’s gatekeeper to becoming its governor. Instead of trying to enforce strict controls on technology’s use and application within the organisation, IT can gain much greater leverage by providing strategic counsel, technical assistance, and other forms of support to business-led digital use cases. On a basic level, this seemingly more permissive approach can give CIOs greater visibility over new technologies like AI – allowing them to spot potential technical risks, while leaving their line-of-business counterparts free to derive as much value from the technology as possible.

However, there’s a more important opportunity for IT here: to guide the mind-sets and vision that the business applies to technology. Digital advances like AI don’t just reduce costs or make processes more efficient. They prompt entirely new ways of thinking about talent, collaboration, and even leadership that every leader will have to navigate at some point. IT leaders have experience not only with technology, but with thinking about technology – bridging the gap between ideal expectations and technical constraints. Exchanging strict control for strategic counsel will help them, and their counterparts in leadership, find the most productive way forward with any new technology.

Don’t Get Left Behind!

My personal conviction is that there’s no lasting value in marketing technology through fear. When we talk about AI with potential customers, we try to stay as focused on the benefits and possibilities that it exposes. However, I have begun to see the enterprise market in Asia Pacific taking on an increasingly “FOMO”-driven mind-set when it comes to AI and automation. Understandably, nobody wants to be left behind by a changing digital ecosystem.

My advice to CIOs and IT more generally would be: don’t get left behind, but don’t rush in either. The IT department’s new role increasingly revolves not around driving digital adoption, but empowering different business functions to do so – and helping define how an increasingly digital workplace works. Get the thinking right first, and the rewards of technologies like AI and Automation will follow.

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