No items found.

Business Leaders Gather For World’s First Chief AI Officer Summit

The summit gathered executives to discuss a new and increasingly important role within organizations.
No items found.
January 4, 2024
Share this post
Business Leaders Gather For World’s First Chief AI Officer Summit

As companies in every industry scramble to develop an AI strategy, a new — sometimes unenviable — job title has emerged: Chief AI Officer (CAIO).

CAIOs have been charged with leading their organizations’ transition into the brave new world of AI. But inflated ideas about AI’s capabilities mean CAIOs are often battling unrealistic expectations and inadequate organizational support.

To help CAIOs navigate those challenges, the Institute for Experiential AI partnered with the Chief Data Officer (CDO) Club to host the world’s first Chief AI Officer Summit at Northeastern University. The Dec. 14, 2023 event brought together CAIOs and other top executives to share their experience working on the front lines of the AI transformation.

Along the way, attendees broke down their most successful strategies for embedding AI into their businesses to supercharge operations and boost bottom lines.

“The economic impact of generative AI will be huge,” Institute Executive Director Usama Fayyad said in his keynote talk. “People estimate it will accelerate 15 to 80 percent of knowledge worker tasks... If you have something that can accelerate those tasks by even one percent, it will have a huge impact — and I think it will have a much larger impact than that.”

Huge Opportunities – And Huge Challenges

Chief AI Officer is still not a very common job title. CDO Club CEO David Mathison estimates there are about 250 CAIOs in the world today. The summit brought together a significant portion of those CAIOs along with more than 100 executives with more traditional titles like CEO, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Officer, and more.

The CAIO is often appointed by an executive who wants more focus and ownership around the organization’s development of AI-powered solutions. Ronke Ekwensi, the vice president and chief data officer at T-Mobile, said CAIOs can be the ones responsible for executing an organization’s AI strategy — but said everyone in an organization has a role to play.

“The C-suite should be familiar with how AI can impact their business,” Ekwensi said. “Business leaders need to understand what predictions in their organization can be automated. The execution of that is a whole different field. It requires a specific set of expertise, and you need a Chief AI Officer to help you guide leaders so they understand how to think about implementing AI in their businesses.”

But even if an organization has a CAIO, execution doesn’t always come easy. Many CAIOs and other speakers discussed the importance of effective data collection and labeling.

“The real world is untidy, messy and nuanced,” ZoomInfo CEO Henry Schuck said. In his keynote, Schuck showed an AI investor’s sentiment that many tech companies can’t build end-to-end AI solutions for go-to-market teams. “It underscores that, while AI can process, predict, and automate, human touch and high-quality data underlying these models is critical.”

Fayyad agreed with that opinion.

“I often say every project starts as a data project. No data means no AI - and most companies don’t have the data. We at the Institute believe strongly in working on projects in the real world. That’s why we started the AI Solutions Hub - to address advanced AI problems in real contexts with actual deliverable solutions.”

Other challenges CAIOs discussed included changing the culture of their organization, establishing clear lines of command in large organizations, and ensuring every AI solution is scalable.

Companies in highly regulated industries, of course, have an additional set of challenges to overcome.

"For every project, you have to look at the quality of data and the human impact," Jerry Gupta, a senior vice president of the insurance group Swiss Re, explained. "If the human impact or risk is high, then you have to be more careful. If the risk is low, you can be a little more agile. The nuts and bolts of it is you can't adopt a one size fits all approach to AI."

Gupta suggested dividing projects by their level of risk and complexity. For simple projects, organizations can go through expedited checklists. More complex projects, meanwhile, probably require a compliance officer in the loop.

“If you don’t segregate the projects, you’ll go through a six-month compliance review for every project, and by the time you launch it, the technology will already have changed,” Gupta said.

On Partnerships and Pathways

Eileen Vidrine, the chief data and AI officer of the US Department of the Air Force, shared insights on driving AI innovation across military departments. The approach involved small-scale experimentation and scaling up successful initiatives. Vidrine also says she emphasizes the importance of collaboration.

“We try to be that change agent at the secretariat level by working with our partners at Army and Navy and our coalition partners,” Vidrine said. “It’s about one team, one fight, and figuring out how we can work together. You don’t do this alone. You have to have a great team.”

Shawn Wang, the chief AI officer at Elevance Health, also discussed the importance of collaborating, particularly with legal and compliance partners.

"AI is more of a team sport,” Wang said. “You're never going to know everything about AI regulation. In the early stage we worked with legal on formulating responsible AI policies… Working together built trust and made folks feel like there was co-ownership across the organization. That’s important when you navigate a complex matter like this.”

Responsible AI is also a core offering of the Institute, which works with companies to provide a comprehensive and integrated approach to AI ethics.

Sunil Senan, the senior vice president and business head of data analytics at consulting multinational Infosys, emphasized the importance of developing a clear framework for AI adoption, encouraging accountability, and regularly updating technology.

“We look at how you make your data safe for use with AI, how you make sure it’s running with the right guard rails, and how you discover opportunities,” Senan said.

Preparing for Transformation

Big companies often resist change, and CAIOs given huge responsibilities but limited authority are bound to run into insurmountable problems. But if done correctly, appointing a CAIO can bring innumerable benefits to an organization.

“Beyond the shiny nature of this technology, there is real business value,” Senan said.

Ekwensi says companies don’t necessarily need a CAIO, but they definitely need an AI strategy.

“Companies that figure out how to leverage AI in their business will achieve improved productivity and will have a better cost structure, which opens up the ability to make bigger investments,” Ekwensi explained. “So if you’re not doing that, you’ll probably either get left behind or become extinct.”

Indeed, many attendees described the moment as a make-or-break point for businesses. That perspective means adopting AI is mandatory — and it means there will be many more CAIO summits in years to come.

“I believe we’re moving from digital transformation to exponential transformation,” Mathison told the audience. “This isn’t going to take ten years. It’s already happening and it’s going to affect huge portions of the population.”

Are you looking to start an AI or data project? Do you need expertise in Responsible AI? Contact us. And stay on top of fast moving AI trends: subscribe to our monthly newsletter!

Other News

No items found.