Getting the most from AI by integrating it with a firm's DNA

22 April 2024 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

As with any digital transformation, integrating new AI technology into a firm’s operations can be extremely challenging. Teresa Barreira, the global CMO and CCO of Publicis Sapient, explains how businesses can get the most from change, and incorporate AI with upskilling the present workforce.

In the early days of the internet, one application stood out: email. It was a novel application that seemed to promise a new era of business. Suddenly, the traditional mail cart, once a staple of office communication, was replaced by the instantaneous and seamless exchange of digital messages.

As time passed, email transitioned from a differentiator to a commodity, and at the same dramatically altered workplace communication. The once bustling mail rooms quieted down and eventually disappeared, and while this shift led to some job losses, it also paved the way for new opportunities. Today, while we depend heavily on email for communication, it no longer serves as a competitive edge.

Teresa Barreira, CMO & CCO, Publicis Sapient

Similarly, the discourse around AI began as a strategy to stand out and get ahead, with companies appointing a Chief AI Officer or launching new AI initiatives. However, the true power of AI lies not just in the technology itself, but in its potential to act as a silent partner, enhancing and supporting our work across the entire organization. 

Instead of racing to develop random AI projects and initiatives, we should focus on integrating it into ways of working to elevate our capabilities and drive our strategies.

A holistic approach to AI, which includes a cultural transformation and upskilling, is essential. AI, much like other digital technologies, is just another capability. However, if we fully embrace its potential, it has the power to revolutionize our work.

New mindset

To tap into this potential, we need a fundamental transformation in our organizational mindset that steers clear of isolated AI initiatives.

Consider the adoption of digital technology as a valuable learning lesson. Initially, it was a separate function within companies, with roles like CDO created to manage it. However, this approach treated digital as a silo, delaying its full adoption and the realization of its benefits. Instead of making digital an integral part of the company's "water supply," organizations often used digital technologies for random, isolated initiatives.

This is a pitfall we must avoid with AI. We need to weave AI into our daily routines and ways of working. By doing so, we can fully harness its potential and steer our businesses towards success.

Consider how integrating just email into our ways of working has enabled teams across different time zones and geographies to collaborate effectively and swiftly. This has opened doors for remote teams, expansion into new markets, and a global customer reach.

Similarly, embedding AI into our ways of working can have profound second-order effects.  Increased productivity could pave the way for a four-day workweek. Employees could experience faster career progression, and less training might be required as AI augmentation allows humans to be more productive. By leveraging AI, businesses can unlock new growth and innovation opportunities, while also enhancing the work-life balance of their employees.

As we envision this potential future state, it's crucial to also address the challenge of cultivating a team culture that is receptive to AI-driven transformations.

This requires promoting experimentation and continuous learning, where employees are empowered to explore new ideas and experiment with AI technologies, while providing the necessary resources and support.  

For example, at our company, leaders actively encourage our people to experiment with Generative AI. We created an internal Generative AI sandbox tool—PS Chat—that gives employees the freedom to explore, test and learn in a secure environment, mitigating data and privacy risks. This not only enhances their AI skills, but also nurtures a mindset of curiosity and adaptability.

Upskilling and reskilling

Building on the foundation of fostering a culture of experimentation, it’s equally important for companies to invest in upskilling and building AI literacy among employees at all levels, from frontline staff to senior executives, to ensure widespread buy-in and understanding. Marketing teams, for example, may need to acquire new skills and knowledge such as data analysis, ethical best practices and AI programming to effectively use AI technologies for personalization and optimizing campaign targeting and performance.  

But upskilling alone won’t be enough. Many in the workforce may need to be completely reskilled. To successfully deploy reskilling programs, companies must do a lot more than just train employees. They need to create the right mindset and foster behaviors among employees and managers that embrace constant evolution and growth. For example, the executive team at CVS has made reskilling anQ integral part of the company’s business strategy. Each business leader is now responsible for implementing workforce-reskilling plans to help the company reach its goals, and leaders’ success is factored into their performance assessments.

While emphasizing the necessity of upskilling and reskilling employees, senior executives also have a key role to play in unlocking the potential of AI by leading from the front. Their bold leadership and willingness to embrace change are pivotal to revolutionizing our work. 

So, rather than creating a “Chief of AI,” ask everyone to explore and integrate AI. You will have successes and failures along the way. Celebrate both.  

AI represents a paradigm shift that transcends technology, reshaping the very fabric of work. By adopting AI as a transformative force and fostering a culture that embraces innovation, data-informed decision-making and experimentation, organizations can position themselves for success and, in turn, help employees develop their skills and progress in their careers in an increasingly AI-driven world.