- CFOs can double productivity within three years by weaving artificial intelligence into operations as a benign co-worker that enables employees to pursue more fulfilling, higher-value tasks, according to a Gartner expert on AI.
- When presenting the new technology to employees, CFOs should “tell them ‘we’re positioning AI as something that is going to help you do your job better so you can do new things, more interesting things that add more value,’” Mark McDonald, a Gartner senior director analyst, said Wednesday.
- Companies that promote “AI as a co-worker,” averting employees’ fears of job loss, are six times more likely to succeed in AI adoption, McDonald told the Gartner CFO and Finance Executive Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Moreover, job satisfaction can triple, “which is very compelling at a time when it’s getting harder and harder to attract and retain talent.”
AI adoption last year rose 4 percentage points compared with 2021, with 35% of companies worldwide reporting use of the technology and an additional 42% considering deployment, according to IBM.
Two out of every three CFOs believe artificial intelligence will help create “autonomous finance” within six years, McDonald said. Yet less than 30% of finance executives will likely achieve that goal, he predicted.
“They’re running into hurdles — hurdles they didn’t expect,” highlighting that AI adoption will not succeed when CFOs take the traditional approach to a project launch: scope out, team setup, configure applications, test, training staff, launch, McDonald said.
“AI is not a project at all — it’s a competency” that poses a cultural challenge, he said.
Top executives expect too much from the technology, while employees fear it will nudge them out of their jobs.
Company leaders “think that because AI does some things like people, it can do everything like people — but it can’t and that leads to inflated expectations,” McDonald said.
At the same time, polls show that 70% of the population believes AI will take their jobs, he said. “That leads to resistance” among employees — “nobody wants to train the replacement.”
The upshot: “We’ve got leaders who want AI to do everything, and employees don’t want it to do anything,” McDonald said.
CFOs can remove the cultural obstacle by “prioritizing your uses of AI that position it as something that is designed to help people do their jobs better,” according to McDonald. They should consider starting with small projects, which are quickly implemented and easy for employees to understand.
CFOs should anticipate the time savings from AI by guiding employees in advance toward higher-value tasks, he said.
Thanks to AI, employees will be able to focus on “those things that you’ve been ignoring for the past several years because everybody has been too busy shuffling data around or making spreadsheets or creating reports,” McDonald said.
A CFO should build AI-related skills within the company, McDonald said. They should train finance employees who know a company’s operations and objectives as “citizen data scientists,” able to scope out and test AI opportunities and benefits.
A CFO should also create a “Center of Excellence” made up of data scientists and software engineers to focus on the technical challenges of AI adoption, he said.
Principled leadership is also essential, McDonald said. As a CFO, “the most important skill that you have to do as a leader is to make sure that we keep people in the loop and avoid that temptation to delegate our financial responsibilities to algorithms.”