Building an Artificial Intelligence Strategy: How to Make the Case to the Board
Understanding the need to implement artificial intelligence (AI) into your company is only a minor part of the deployment process. The biggest factor in building an artificial intelligence strategy is getting the C-suite to understand and support the vision. An effective case to the board should address the big picture of AI, manage expectations, and display the return and value AI will produce for your organization.
When painting the big picture of an artificial intelligence strategy, illustrate to the board how AI is causing a market shift, the benefits to the company, and the capabilities of the system.
Employing an AI strategy is about survival and opportunity. According to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), 75% of surveyed executives said AI will be “actively implemented” in their companies within the next three years.1 As the world goes through a digital transformation, utilizing AI will provide a competitive advantage for the early adopters and unfortunately, those reluctant to implement new technologies will likely find it difficult to remain relevant.
As data replaces the need for domain expertise, the competitive landscape is changing and becoming more cutthroat than ever before. For example, in today’s current digital transformation, an industrial company may now be directly competing with an IT company. Your business model will need to be elastic, as this unfamiliar realm of competition will require companies to focus on innovation.
When making the case to the board, emphasize that a properly planned AI strategy allows your company to analyze data, find insights that add value, and understand your business’s risks and opportunities. With limited hidden risks, the opportunity to innovate with new products and new revenue streams is more prevalent. This allows your company to thrive and remain competitive despite the unknowns that exist within digital transformation.
One of the most important details of illustrating the big picture will be showing executives how an artificial intelligence strategy will address problems that they are concerned with. Without this, the board will not support the vision of AI within your company. To address the correct problems, identifying the right use case is important to start with.
In the energy industry, an executive will be receptive to a solution that brings predictability to operations, reduces the need for utilities to add capacity, or addresses workforce issues. Addressing how an AI strategy could accomplish this through increased reliability, safety, and efficiency of assets, strengthening cybersecurity, and sharpening forecasting would be an example of a problem that will concern top management. Once a sense of urgency is recognized, support from the C-suite will set a necessary foundation for an artificial intelligence strategy.
Set a definition for success
For executives to understand the fit of an artificial intelligence strategy, presenting an implementation plan is critical. The finer elements of the plan will certainly be specific to your company, but the core will remain the same for any organization looking to make the case for AI to the C-suite.
The expectations for an AI strategy must remain rational throughout implementation. AI is not superhuman nor is it omniscient or omnipotent. However, it is a learning machine able to sift through vast data sets to produce analytical insights.
It is not uncommon for an executive to feel pressure from other businesses to implement AI. Misleading marketing by some companies can often create misconceptions surrounding the different applications and uses of what they call “artificial intelligence” but what another company might call “automation.” Be sure to manage technological expectations for what artificial intelligence can actually do.
Underestimating the low-hanging fruit or small successes when employing AI can be detrimental to the attitudes surrounding the project. An example of low-hanging fruit may be a law firm using natural language processing to auto-route incoming documents to the appropriate personnel within their company — but enough time may be freed by this process that the administrative staff can take on an entirely new project. An understanding of how these small successes can build upon each other and become critical transformations is the right mindset to cultivate within your company.
Provide a plan, cultivate support
Once the big picture of what AI can reasonably accomplish has been established, it’s time to delve into the numbers. The last aspect of an artificial intelligence strategy to present to executives is the use case and return for your company. This part will include the added value, the business buy-in required, and a roadmap to a successful AI implementation.
The added value AI brings to your company will be the most fundamental aspect of sealing the case to the board. Present executives with the various areas where costs are cut by employing machine learning capabilities. In addition to AI’s general economic value you must be specific about the tangible results AI will deliver, such as reducing critical asset downtime, increasing uptime and efficiency, augmenting subject matter experts (SMEs), and preserving the SME’s knowledge.
From the beginning, identifying supporters within an organization that value innovation and will be receptive to new technologies is important in gaining traction to make the case to the rest of the executives. The biggest determinant of a successful artificial intelligence project is getting all stakeholders aligned with the strategy moving forward. If even one person involved in the implementation is not completely sold on the need or the value, the project will not reach its full potential.
Top executives in your company may wonder what their role should be in the process of implementing AI and how their business units may be affected. Stress the importance of strong change management and how critical it will be for the eventual success of the initiative. Getting the buy-in from top management is crucial because they will, in turn, need to paint the picture of the benefits of utilizing AI to their larger teams.
The right vendor of AI solutions can collaboratively work with all members within your company to ensure a smooth implementation, even with potential resistance from some members of the team. The importance of working with all rank and file to collaborate and build confidence across an organization is one of the first things a successful solution provider understands. This is an important metric for top management to evaluate when selecting the most effective vendor and use cases.
While a vendor will contribute technological knowledge of AI and its application within your company, the executives will also need to understand the data. AI can be compared to the adoption potential of the internet 25 years ago. Every executive needs to take the time to understand the process, possibilities, and risks in order to be prepared for what is to come. If they choose to attempt an in-house AI strategy, understanding the infrastructure needed is critically important. Moving to the subsequent stages with a firm grasp of the future of AI and a business model that allows for implementation will be crucial to success.