Arun Kumar serves as data and AI global practice leader for Chicago, Illinois-based Hero Digital, a tech consulting company specializing in customer experience. Views are the author’s own.
Businesses that have yet to embrace artificial intelligence are already falling behind.
But it's not too late. As we enter 2024, there has never been more opportunity to integrate AI into business operations and practices.
The business case is clear — companies that use AI effectively can generate 13% greater return on investment, more than double the average return than businesses that are implementing AI without preparation and strategy, an IBM study found.
AI isn't another Silicon Valley fad — it's a transformational technology and is here to stay.
The adoption of AI technologies by companies has rapidly accelerated since ChatGPT was released to the public a little over a year ago. While a lot of it is still in the realm of “Wow – I didn’t know it could do this,” many practical uses and applications have already emerged.
Also, the fact that governments are beginning to regulate AI is another testament to its significance, although the technology is still in the nascent stages of adoption.
Adoption risks, challenges
A recent survey from Salesforce found that more than half of workers using AI are doing so without their employer’s approval, which puts companies at risk. This unauthorized use, though often not malicious, can lead to data breaches and reputational damage, as seen in the case of Samsung employees uploading sensitive code to a ChatGPT platform.
Privacy and other risks associated with AI implementation will take center stage in 2024 and beyond. President Joe Biden has signed an executive order on AI, and many scientific and government organizations are beginning to issue their own specific guidelines. Meanwhile, the European Union has already introduced AI regulations that will have global implications. In light of these developments, businesses will need to prioritize privacy, data protection and ethical AI practices to avoid regulatory fines and reputational damage.
AI adoption can also present cultural challenges for organizations. Embracing AI is as much a cultural shift as it is a technological one. People within an organization may have varying levels of familiarity and comfort with the technology. Employees must be equipped and informed to make the most of this new tool.
In addition, companies adopting AI for the first time aren’t always sure how to do it in a way that can deliver real business value. A 2019 study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group found that seven out of 10 companies saw minimal or no impact from using AI.
Here are some practical tips for first-time AI adopters as they wrestle with how to navigate some of these thorny challenges:
Start small. Businesses should begin their AI journey with manageable projects rather than attempting large-scale transformations. Concentrate on initiatives that promise value and efficiency without unrealistic expectations of instant, substantial growth.
Measure outcomes. While AI can seem magical, it's essential to connect its applications to tangible business outcomes. Businesses don’t want to oversell it, but demonstrating value is critical for securing support and resources for future AI projects. Focus on creating genuine business value rather than solely emphasizing the technology's novelty.
Be authentic. Don't make the mistake of labeling non-AI solutions as AI, like Google did with one of its Gemini demos. Consumers can discern the difference, and deceptive practices can harm a business’ reputation. Instead, focus on executing basic use cases that genuinely benefit customers. For example, Amazon released an AI-driven feature that summarizes user reviews, demonstrating how practical and transparent AI usage can enhance the customer experience.
Establish internal policies and procedures. It is imperative to create clear policies, procedures and guidelines for AI usage within an organization. Ensure that employees are aware of these policies and have access to guidance on how to use AI responsibly and in compliance with ethical and legal standards.
Train and educate employees. Provide workers with the knowledge and skills needed to use AI effectively and responsibly. Training will empower a workforce to harness AI's capabilities safely.
Promote open internal communication. Make AI a non-taboo topic by fostering an environment where employees can discuss their questions and concerns. This communication can help prevent employees from experimenting with AI tools without approval and avoid potential data breaches.