While "IoT" was the acronym of the day at last year's MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., it was duly replaced with "AI" at this year's event.
During this year's May symposium, several sessions focused on artificial intelligence (AI) -- ranging from getting AI initiatives off the ground to the cost-value proposition of AI to AI ethics and other philosophical matters in the AI age.
The impact of AI on enterprise IT departments and enterprise digital transformation as a whole, however, emerged as the event's running AI through line.
One such subtopic related to the future of work in the AI age.
"What does work look like as a result of these developments? There are pros and cons," said Anthony Christie, CMO of Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), and MIT CIO speaker, in a post-event interview. "The pros involve new skill sets and new opportunities to apply new skill sets. At the same time there is an increasing awareness and concern from companies like Level 3 that we need to attract, train and retain the right levels of talent to continue to be able to perform at the levels that our customers expect us to because we are helping them transform their businesses."
To be certain, notions of talent shortages are perennially on tech execs' lips, particularly where AI is concerned. At Boston's MassIntelligence Conference on AI nearly one month earlier, for instance, numerous speakers lambasted big companies participating in the self-driving car sector for gobbling up the vast bulk of AI talent. (See: Windstream Sees AI Winds Blowing Toward SD-WAN.)
"I think it’s every leader’s responsibility to understand not only what they need today to be successful, but what the profile of human talent needs to be in the future," said Christie. "No function is an island; that’s why we have an ecosystem that includes HR, training and the community [e.g., universities, colleges]. Good leaders need to be tapping into all these avenues all the time while being mindful as to how the future of work will continue to change. The gig economy may be small today, but it may not be in the future. It’s up to individual leaders to understand what it takes to be successful and like any other tool, go and acquire it."
Moreover, all of this talent has to work optimally to make AI work optimally. This requires optimizing the talent. Indeed, the answers to the enterprise agility problems discussed at MIT CIO, speakers tended to agree, lie in collaboration. One of the key takeaways of the symposium was the idea of IT leaders making IT and digital demands more collaborative -- effectively making work in those areas part of everyone's job, regardless of whether or not they are in IT, because traditional IT teams have been so siloed from the demands of the business (and vice versa).
"We like to optimize the way people spend their time," said Suresh Kumar, CIO and senior executive vice president of client technology solutions at BNY Mellon, as he discussed the importance of time to market while speaking on a panel titled "Running IT Like a Factory." "Our twofold challenge is getting people to think differently and being able to compete in the marketplace as though they are digital."
In a later panel, "Who's Really Responsible for Technology?," John Petzold, senior client partner and global co-head of FinTech at Korn Ferry, picked up on this idea as he spoke about "CIO optimization."
"Successful CIOs are much more likely to take blame for failure than take credit for success," said Petzold. "IT is the business at this point…The business is relying on the technology for every decision that is made."
"You've got to bring those people closer together so there aren't so many barriers," summed up Scott Blandford, chief technology officer and chief digital officer of TIAA's retail financial services division, while also speaking on the "Who's Really Responsible for Technology?" panel. "The biggest concern that I have is whether we'll be able to keep up, not just with the technology, but with the people."
Christie, however, issued his own cautions about getting too enthusiastic about silo-breaking -- observing that if something, AI-related or not, is everybody's job, it is effectively no one's job.
"There is this notion of accountability and/or governance because this accountability is how you are competing," said Christie, speaking on the same panel as Petzold. "There are a lot of folks who have the ability to weigh in on something, but there are not a lot of folks who are accountable."
Accordingly, Christie proposed making clear who is responsible for what while further ensuring that those responsibilities directly go toward supporting upper-level strategy. In this way, everybody can still collaborate on and contribute to AI initiatives, but very specifically and in a way that makes sense.
"The number of transformative technologies requires the focus and responsibility of more than any one function in an organization, including the IT department," Christie told Telco Transformation. "When you're talking about digital transformation and application of AI to create a new business model, that takes more than just the IT function to execute."
At the end of the day, though, MIT CIO speakers as a whole were bullish on the promises of AI tech in helping to further perpetrate that collaboration and that digital transformation.
"We feel strongly that cognitive intelligence is like agility," said Petzold while further cautioning that AI is no substitute for the real thing because humans are the ones who still have to train, operate and navigate cognitive systems. "I can't do what I do and technology can't do what we need it to if you remove the collaboration."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation