Artificial intelligence is swiftly becoming an action item for executives, especially as the technology continues to see rapid advancement.
In a recent example, just months after launching its ChatGPT 3.5 tool, creator OpenAI has already announced an updated version, ChatGPT 4.0, which is scoring higher than its predecessor on certain simulated exams.
From a CFOs’ perspective specifically, “I think we need to look at (AI) just because we know that it's something that's going to be asked,” by key stakeholders, Matthew Malek, CFO of Interactions LLC, said. The Franklin, Mass.-based Interactions offers intelligent virtual assistants — not a chatbot, Malek said — which uses conversational AI to help enhance conversations between customers and businesses.
AI development drives opportunities
Malek took on the top finance seat for the company in February, having previously served as both chief operating officer and CFO for document management company DocuVault, according to his LinkedIn profile. He has held various CFO roles including for ESF Camps & Experiences and the Philadelphia Zoo, and began his career at Arthur Andersen.
The current AI hype cycle has “really created demand” for generative or conversational AI tools, Malek said. More attention is being paid to how the technology could be integrated and utilized in multiple areas across businesses, from back-office needs as well as customer-facing tasks.
Continuing macroeconomic headwinds, for instance, have put a spotlight on customer service needs for many — businesses such as retailers, for example, need to ensure they can hold on to the customers they do have as they brace for declines in consumer spending. However, such companies are also dealing with a persistent labor shortage, which can strain the resources they have on hand to keep customers satisfied.
To maintain or improve a quality customer service experience in such an environment, “one of the best ways to do that is by leveraging AI,” Malek said.
CFOs can play a critical role in determining how and where AI can be integrated into their businesses — as the “connector” of their organizations, finance chiefs have insight into what effect implementing such technologies could have throughout the business, Malek said.
“Understanding how any technology is going to impact the whole business is so important,” Malek said. “You don’t necessarily need to understand exactly how AI works and all those pieces…but what's the impact? How could it help? How could it potentially hurt?”
Furthermore, as more attention — and funds — are applied to AIs’ potential, CFOs will likely be more willing to experiment with what the technology can do for their organizations.
A lot of CFOs are “creatures of comfort,” Malek said, but “as (AI) becomes more mainstream, I think you get more confidence in some of the things it can do. But then on the other side, you have to be careful you don't take it too far,” he said.
Understanding AI’s limitations
While AI presents real and growing potential for customer service, financials, data collection and other key business elements, it is also crucial for leaders to be aware of the technology’s current sticking points.
It’s critical for businesses leaders to understand “what the technology can do, what it does well, and then what it wasn't made to do,” Malek said.
AI itself works best when combined with a human touch, he said. Interaction tools “keep a human in the loop,” he said, which enables both greater customer service as well as enabling the company itself to consistently improve its own algorithms.
Businesses and their financial leaders “can’t rely on AI alone” for the majority of cases, Malek said. Additionally, while AI has been around for a number of years at this point, it’s important to remember that it is still fairly new as technologies go.
“If you think about it from a flight standpoint, to think about Orville and Wilbur Wright and biplanes, that's where we are for AI,” he said, referring particularly to the state of generative AI.
This story has been updated to clarify the type of AI Malek was referring to in the final paragraph.