5 ways CIOs can manage the business demand for generative AI

Professionals are desperate to reap the benefits of generative AI. Here's how CIOs and their teams can manage that demand effectively.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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Boardroom executives are eager to exploit generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). The demand is creating huge pressure for CIOs and IT professionals, according to Logicalis' tenth annual CIO Report.

Logicalis group CTO Toby Alcock says his firm's research shows CIOs are in a tough spot. The rest of the business has heard about GenAI's productivity and cost benefits but doesn't necessarily understand the challenges of embracing emerging technologies.

Also: Global tech spending expected to keep climbing on AI demand

"There's so much hype around AI and the promise of what it will do," Alcock told ZDNET. "The business stakeholders see this silver bullet called generative AI and think it can do everything. But this potential often has nothing to do with AI when you look under the hood of vendors' products."

CIOs who want to manage the demand for AI should have frank discussions with their business colleagues across five key areas.

1. Be clear on what's achievable

Integrating AI effectively into the business is the number one priority for CIOs in 2024. Alcock said that 89% of IT leaders in the survey of 1,000 CIOs globally want to incorporate AI into their organization in 2024 and 85% have budgets allocated for AI development.

"That's a big bet when you look across the wide gamut of markets, verticals, and customers in the survey, with the overwhelming majority all betting on this technology," Alcock said. "CIOs want to prove they're on the front foot and leading with the latest buzzwords and technologies in AI."

Also: Generative AI on its own will not improve the customer experience

However, Alcock issued a warning to CIOs: manage demand effectively.

"Success is being realistic about where the opportunities are with AI. When we talk to our customers, it's being clear on what can you get done," he said. "Cut through the hype and deliver tangible business value quickly. Get some evidence that allows you to target further investment for AI."

2. Develop AI skills

CIOs must also ensure their business has the skills to make the most of this emerging technology. The good news is that the survey found that 87% of digital leaders have already established AI workstreams. However, Alcock noted that finding great talent in this nascent market is challenging.

"Everyone's trying to look at how they can start to invest in skills," he said. "But, unfortunately, trying to hire data scientists and AI skills is very different to the core business that most of our CIOs are used to, which is running infrastructure and keeping the business operating."

Also: Generative AI is the technology that IT feels most pressure to exploit

Alcock added that talented data scientists have a different way of working, and their skills don't come cheap. "We pay a lot for our data scientists and our customers are spending a lot of money on this area, too," he said.

The demand is so high that securing in-house AI talent could be cost-prohibitive. Alcock encouraged CIOs to look beyond the enterprise firewall and consider working with partners, such as vendors, consultants, and startups, that already have data talent.

Keep the cost of these initiatives down by focusing on clear organizational objectives. "I think the key comes back to business outcomes -- ask how AI will help drive efficiency, create differentiation, improve security, or help with sustainability initiatives," he said. "If you're just putting in AI for the sake of it, and you don't have a real return on investment measure, it's probably doomed to fail."

3. Deal with AI governance

Almost three-quarters (72%) of CIOs are apprehensive about the challenges of regulating AI. CIOs must find a way to help the business balance its excitement for AI with the challenges of governance, whether that's ethics, biases, or forthcoming regulations.

"We're in the Wild West," Alcock said. "There are no accepted ways of governing AI and it's an area that's evolving so quickly that a policy on a bit of paper might not be relevant by the time it's put into use by the business."

The survey revealed that 86% of CIOs have kicked off formal AI policies in their organizations despite the fast-moving nature of the market. These initiatives will help businesses get a grip on governance as national and global regulations are established.

Alcock noted that CIOs who put policies in place should match business use cases for AI with a strong sense of how data will be used. "The risk profile comes back to understanding your key data," he said. "What's this project going to achieve for my business? What data do you have to protect? And how do you avoid that data getting exposed?"

4. Confront the cyber challenge

The ever-growing cyber threat compounds data risk. As many as 83% of businesses in the survey suffered a hack in 2023 and only 43% of CIOs feel fully prepared for another breach. Alcock said that AI presents new challenges for CIOs: "People are weaponizing AI and using targeted and automated attacks on businesses."

The lack of preparedness for further attacks means CIOs must change how their IT and security teams operate.

Also: Generative AI advancements will force companies to think big and move fast

"A zero-trust model that assumes that you're trying to be breached all the time is the right solution," Alcock said. "That model is about being prepared, so that when the next breach happens -- not if, when -- you're prepared, you know how to act, and you can recover quickly and cleanly."

Alcock encouraged CIOs to explore new AI-enabled tools as part of that zero-trust approach.

"That's about using AI to fight AI. It's about exploring how AI can help identify threats instantly and reduce downtime without hiring hundreds of people," he said. "Generative AI will continue to evolve. There's a lot of money being put into AI and security and the point where they join is a sweet spot for any entrepreneur."

5. Keep the business connected

The Logicalis research shows that 75% of CIOs believe connectivity infrastructure is a barrier to implementing data-led initiatives. This focus on underlying IT draws CIOs away from focusing on how to make the most of emerging technologies, such as generative AI, machine learning, and the Internet of Things.

"Our data shows CIOs are still spending too much time running systems and keeping the lights on," Alcock said. Managing multiple tools, vendors, and apps across disparate environments is tough. The best way for CIOs to deal with this challenge is proactively.

Also: Generative AI in commerce: 5 ways industries are changing how they do business

"That's probably the biggest takeaway from our report this year,"  Alcock said. "CIOs are now expected to have intelligent boardroom-level conversations about security and compliance, economics, environment, sustainability, reliability, and user experience. That's a broad set of discussions with different stakeholders. So, CIOs must continue to boost their engagement skills and focus on relating effectively with their stakeholders."

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