Embedding AI & Digital In your organisation

Jul 24, 2019 9:59:00 AM / by John Cockburn-Evans

I have been fortunate enough to  attend a couple of events recently, one in Cambridge and one in Milton Keynes on the impact of digital technology , such as AI & I.o.T . Over and above the technological advances there was one recurring theme, that of  acceptance.

So what do we mean by acceptance ? In this context it means the ability of the organisation to accept the  advances. History has shown repeatedly that the technology and the associated functionality, is a few steps ahead of the ability to comprehend it an use it.  As a simple example we can take the set top box, when it first landed, which had way more embedded functionality than was required for basic operation, and probably beyond the comprehension of a significant majority.  This is easier to understand, if we look at it from an individual perspective, as the acceptance will be down to our personal curiosity, and understanding of technology and other factors. However at an organisational level this will be a way more complex issue, as it introduces other human factors, such as fears associated with displacement, or job loss. There could be other fears associated with a lack of understanding, or looking like a poor performer next to your peers.  This all drives the need to ensure the organisation is  ready to embrace the  change.  I will look deeper into some of the readiness requirements. Interestingly enough some of these come from classical change management theories  and models from eminent practitioners in the field such as  John Kotter. 

In the context of AI there was an excellent article in the Jul-Aug edition of the HBR, called "Building  the AI Powered organisation". In the article they cite the need for the breakdown of the organisational and cultural barriers for successful adoption and implementation. One of the issues the article mentions is that only 8% of firms are engaging in core practices that would support the widespread adoption. 

Some of the key requirements for success are as follows:

  • Moving from Siloed work to interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Moving from experience-based leader driven decision making to data driven decision making at the front line
  • Getting staff to think differently, i.e. not risk averse or rigid, but to agile, experimental and adaptable. 
  • The critical element of explaining Why?
  • Anticipating the unique barriers to change. 
  • Having a similar budget for the challenges of integration, to that of the technology itself
  • Balancing feasibility, time investment and value

One further point, in the context of CRM, that is highlighted is that relationship managers who have been attuned to their customers may reject the concept that a machine could have a better idea of what customers want. 

All the above relates to lean thinking and the need to ensure that there is value at every step, the avoidance of waste, and more importantly the need to educate everyone to get full engagement.  This wont just rely on training, it will be about building awareness, and where necessary execute coaching.  This may sound obvious but proper "measurement"is never executed as well as the intention, but it is imperative to track and facilitate the adoption using KPIs. If we are not measuring, we are not changing. This is again classic lean working and change management theory. 

Tim Fountaine's article also discusses the requirements for incentives.  From my own experience, generally permanent incentives don't work, as they can become stale, but for  significant programmes where success is critical staged and appropriate incentives recognising the upheaval felt and the dedication required by staff, must be recognised. I recall actually providing "stay the distance" incentives for those that were involved in factory closures,  as a recognition that those that stay to close the plant safely and professionally, might miss out on the job market. The key word is appropriate. 

In summary, embedding AI in your organisation is a challenge, but one that can be delivered on, if  all the appropriate steps are taken.  It is like any other change programme, follow the right steps, communicate, educate, measure, progress chase but most of all engage with the people. Explain the need for the change properly and transparently to avoid resistance or conflict. Don't  forget the fear factor. It is about having the right processes and budgets for the  whole implementation not just the technology  and making sure the organisation is emotionally prepared. This is why I am always an advocate of selecting the correct change agents with the appropriate skills, personal attributes and  experience. 

Without embracing AI and the related digital transformations, your organisation will be left behind, which is why this stage has been labelled Industry 4.0 


Ref: Harvard Business Review Article July 2019; Tim Fountaine, Brian McCarthy, Tamim Saleh

Tags: Impact, Productivity, culture, AI, Digital, Organisation

John Cockburn-Evans

Written by John Cockburn-Evans