Why embracing generative AI has gone from ‘maybe’ to ‘must’

Leaders must overcome lingering AI hesitation and take the plunge – or risk being left behind when it comes to productivity and innovation

You’d be hard pressed these days to scan the business or technology headlines in any major news outlet without spotting something that relates to artificial intelligence. 

The conversation is equally as loud within most – if not all – of the world’s largest enterprises, which are spending billions of dollars between them on emerging technologies like generative AI. 

Understandably, many fear being left behind by the competition if they fail to invest as a matter of urgency. 

It should of course be emphasised that AI in itself is not a new form of technology and has been utilised, in various forms, for decades. The difference now is its maturity and accessibility.

“AI has been around for a long time,” says Ivana Bartoletti, Global Chief Privacy Officer at Wipro. “What has changed is the availability of data and the huge computational power that we now have. 

“The other change is that some of these tools, like Bard or ChatGPT, are available to millions. This clearly presents both challenges and risks, as we have seen in recent months.”

Greg Kelly, a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Co and Global Leader of its Growth, Marketing and Sales Practice, describes generative AI as a “significant step change” in the evolution of artificial intelligence.

He adds: “Generative AI holds the potential to alter the anatomy of knowledge-based work within businesses. With its natural language capabilities, gen AI is fundamentally engineered to undertake cognitive tasks, which means that activities like decision making, collaboration and talent development can be automated to some extent.”

AI investment nothing new

As mentioned, AI has not emerged out of nowhere. Major companies have been working hard for several years to incorporate it into their business practices and ensure their people are ready when a period of rapid transformation – such as the one we are witnessing now – arises. 

Tech giant Wipro is a prime example, with 30,000 AI “experts”, an innovation hub called Lab45 and more than 1.7 million developers, designers, data scientists and testers on its open talent platform, Topcoder. 

The firm’s “comprehensive, AI-first innovation ecosystem”, ai360, is named as such because no area of Wipro will be untouched by the technology. 

“We want to embed AI in everything we do and that is why we’re training 250,000 people in the next three years,” Bartoletti continues. “It’s an ambitious goal, but also crucial to ensure all employees have an understanding of how to augment their skills with AI.”

Consulting powerhouse EY is also no stranger to implementing AI capabilities and has been actively investing for 10 years. 

The Big Four member is ranked as a global leader in AI by top analysts and was a visionary with the launch of EY Fabric, a technology acceleration platform which empowers the business with more data and the ability to embed generative AI. 

Beatriz Sanz Sáiz, Global Data and AI Leader at EY Consulting, explains: “We have ambitious plans that have been translated into a global programme aimed at transforming clients, transforming EY and transforming the world.”

Generative AI can create ‘enormous value’

Generative AI’s potential is seemingly endless, hence companies scrambling to jump on the bandwagon.

A recent report published by Accenture showed almost three-quarters (73%) of global companies were prioritising AI over all other digital investments, with an immediate focus on improving operational resilience in an unprecedented environment. What’s more, research from IBM has shown a similar proportion of CEOs believe gaining competitive advantage in future will depend on who has the most advanced AI capabilities.

It seems safe to assume that those percentages will only increase in the coming months.

Christian Pedersen, Chief Product Officer at IFS, believes the emergence of generative AI is “incredibly exciting” from a business perspective. 

“Business is all about productivity, and generative AI is a powerful tool to increase productivity,” he says. “Everyone is always looking for ways to improve, which is why generative AI has gained so much traction so quickly.”

Pedersen points out that, while gen AI is limited to the data it’s trained on and the prompting skills of the user, it has the power to quickly analyse and synthesise information much faster than any human can. For businesses this has all kinds of applications, from drafting quick paragraphs for a blog post to creating sample operational strategies.

“Of course, it all needs to be verified and approved – and probably heavily edited – by a person before it goes into production,” Pedersen continues, “but it’s a great starting point for shaving down the time needed to complete a task and freeing up that worker to focus on more important things.”

Kelly digs deeper into gen AI’s uses, highlighting the extent to which it can help marketing and sales teams. This includes rapidly digesting mountains of data to hyper-personalise customer interactions, identifying growth opportunities and suggesting opportunities for upselling. 

“For all businesses,” Kelly adds, “generative AI is likely to offer tools that have the potential to create enormous value, opening new frontiers in creativity and innovation as the technology develops and matures.”

Overcoming AI hesitation​​​​​​​

As one would expect, the rise of generative AI has proved overwhelming for some leaders who remain unsure about taking such a bold, transformational step.

Sanz Sáiz believes there are four key steps for overcoming such hesitation:

  1. Assess where you are
  2. Reset your ambitions
  3. Define the roadmap for transformation 
  4. Manage risk

“I think we have reached a point of no return, as industries like health and education will be reshaped forever,” she adds. 

“We will see new standards in terms of efficiency and new business models emerging. It will be difficult to remain relevant without embracing these technologies.”

Kelly, meanwhile, contends that business leaders should consider the exploration of generative AI as a ‘must’, rather than a ‘maybe’.

“Generative AI represents a leadership moment,” he goes on. “It can create value in a wide range of use cases, while the economics and technical requirements to start using it are not prohibitive.”

The message from Pedersen is to gain plenty of hands-on experience as soon as possible. 

“It might seem overwhelming now, but many industries will be able to find substantial benefits from embracing generative AI,” he concludes. 

“The technology is still in its early days, so don’t be afraid to experiment – the key is finding out where it does and doesn’t work well to see how it best fits your own business and working practices.”


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