The Sydney-based L.E.K. Consulting team recently attended ‘The Future of Tech, Innovation & Work’, hosted by 6Degrees.AI. This event explored how artificial intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI, and emerging technologies are transforming businesses and provided insights into leveraging these tools to drive innovation and growth. Read on for key takeaways from this event and how these themes will impact organisations in Australia and beyond. 

Generative AI takes centre stage

Generative AI is maturing beyond the popular tools like ChatGPT and Bard and moving towards enterprise adoption. Rather than using these tools in isolation, organisations are looking to integrate generative AI into the broader business strategy to drive innovation, operational efficiencies and revenue growth.

Recent research suggests over 80% of tech leaders plan to increase spending on generative AI. Adoption is often happening under the radar, with 40% of staff using ChatGPT and 70% of those respondents reporting that this is unknown to their management. 

The ‘Taker, Shaper, Maker’ model in AI strategy

The event’s speaker from Google put forward a nuanced AI adoption framework — the ‘Taker, Shaper, Maker’ model. ‘Takers’ adopt existing general-purpose large language models, reaping incremental improvements. ‘Shapers’ go a step further by leveraging generative AI to create industry-specific solutions, effectively shaping the AI landscape within their sectors. ‘Makers’ are at the forefront, developing new AI technologies to solve complex problems. For organisations in the Australian market, progressing from Takers to Shapers or Makers could mean greater global competitiveness and innovation.

Speakers cited examples of NASA, a Maker using generative AI to design objects for space, and Shell, a Shaper optimising wind farm layouts.

AI requires whole business alignment

AI success requires executive alignment across the C-suite on shared objectives like cost reduction, customer experience improvements and productivity gains. Operating in silos can derail efforts: 

  • The chief technology officer may be pushing an AI agenda without buy-in from the chief financial officer on budget or the chief marketing officer on marketing integration. This leads to disjointed or redundant AI initiatives that fail to achieve scale.

  • The CEO needs to drive unified understanding and commitment to specific AI goals across the leadership team. An AI advisory council with cross-functional leaders can help connect perspectives and maintain alignment.

Business and technology strategies must also align under the AI vision. High-quality, unbiased data is required to train algorithms efficiently — the finance and analytics leads need to be on board.

Meanwhile, new skills like prompt engineering and productising of algorithms are critical to deploying AI responsibly at scale — the chief human resources officer should be developing these across IT, product and business teams.

A cohesive C-suite is key to powering enterprise-wide AI transformation. But research shows only 8% of boards report a high degree of AI fluency. Bridging this knowledge gap is vital. Executives must educate boards on AI capabilities and risks. With boards up to speed, coordinated leadership can align on an AI vision to transform the business. 

The trust factor in AI

Stakeholder trust is essential for mainstream AI adoption but can be challenging to achieve. How can organisations demonstrate that AI systems will act ethically, transparently and accountably? Three key strategies help:

  1. First, accountability should be baked into AI through rigorous governance frameworks that document use cases and institute human oversight. Continuously evaluating risks and biases is also critical for maintaining ethical AI.

  2. Transparency builds confidence. Being clear about data practices, explaining how limitations are addressed and setting expectations around model capabilities are vital. Progress requires open communication on balancing innovation with responsibility.

  3. Showcasing high-value applications that improve experiences helps make AI’s advantages tangible. Training that educates all organisational levels on capabilities also smooths adoption. Leadership buy-in follows when AI delivers measurable improvements.

With responsible foundations, AI can transform interactions and operations. But organisations must proactively address concerns, connect systems to business priorities and engage consumers to maximise trust.

Australia currently ranks second to last in AI exploration among major economies, which is very disappointing. Targeting outreach and showcasing high-value applications can improve perceptions and trust — but a concerted effort is required to make AI’s advantages tangible to both leaders and consumers.

Focus on high-value AI use cases first

Customer service, content generation, process automation and personalised recommendations are ranked among the most common AI use cases today. But creativity and a strategic approach are required to successfully introduce AI to the organisation.

Leaders recommend focusing first on high-value applications versus broad AI deployment across the enterprise. Targeted AI tools that enhance cybersecurity, optimise supply chains or provide healthcare insights deliver concrete benefits that build confidence for wider adoption:

  • AI-driven cybersecurity analytics can rapidly process massive amounts of network activity data to identify anomalies and threats. This augments human security teams for faster, more accurate threat detection.

  • In supply chains, predictive algorithms help account for manufacturing variables plus external risks like weather or transportation bottlenecks. This provides stability and visibility even amid volatility.

  • Healthcare AI can surface insights from huge sets of patient data and medical literature that humans could never analyse. This enables more personalised treatment plans and clinical trial matching.

These focused AI solutions solve specific high-impact challenges. They provide a controlled environment in which to build capabilities in areas like monitoring model fairness and prompt engineering for safe interactions.

Leaders can then expand AI to other departments after demonstrating value and establishing governance. With pockets of excellence across the company, broad adoption follows more smoothly. For example, a large Australian bank saw 20% productivity gains in the real world with no drop in quality after expanding its initial AI pilot.

Beware of overestimating gains from pilots: while results might show something like a 46% productivity gain in coding, the actual gain in the real world may be around 20% once AI is implemented at scale. Setting realistic expectations helps build confidence in AI rollouts.

Paving the way for responsible AI

2023 marks a pivotal year for AI ethics with the acceleration of legal frameworks, showcasing a global move towards stronger AI governance. The greater challenge lies in developing the implementing regulations for these finalised laws, which highlights the importance of staying abreast of evolving legal landscapes and ensuring compliance.

In addition, future-ready and inclusive AI education and training is a key prerequisite for improving access to employment and business opportunities in the AI domain.

The future of work in an AI world

AI will transform jobs but not make human skills obsolete; it can handle repetitive tasks while empowering people for judgement, creativity, and strategy. Skills like prompt engineering will be key to governing AI interactions responsibly.

Education and retraining will be critical for the future workforce. Technical skills must evolve alongside uniquely human strengths like ethics, leadership and complex problem solving. AI may replace some roles but will also create new opportunities. For more on how business leaders can consider potential use cases, check out our Executive Insights ‘Generative AI and Human Expertise in Synch: Shaping the Future of Technology Services’ here.

Overall, Australia’s tech leaders see AI as an accelerant for data-driven innovation, not a threat. But realising the full potential requires executive vision, talent investment and responsible governance to build trust. The opportunities for those who navigate wisely are immense.

As your organisation looks to leverage AI and emerging tech, the management consultants at L.E.K. can help. Our tech experts and strategic advisors partner with you to implement AI in a way that drives business growth, unlocks efficiencies and empowers your workforce. Get in touch to future-proof your operations.

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