Overcoming the cultural resistance of AI

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Implementing any new technology can be complex and therefore requires cross-functional participation. Creating the right culture for AI to be successful is not a function or capability; it requires pervasive support. Without total cross-functional buy-in, businesses will struggle, especially if there are plans to do it truly at scale., writes Matthew Tegerdine 

There is a growing concern that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will result in fewer jobs for people. However, Gartner identified that by 2020, AI will create more than 2.3 million jobs – greater than the 1.8 million jobs that the technology is predicted to eliminate.

With the right culture, leader, and mindset, AI can afford more opportunities for a business and its employees. The global business value that will derive from AI is projected to reach $3.9 trillion in 2022, according to Gartner.

When the implementation of AI is handled properly, with early buy-in and complete transparency, it can be very powerful for a business and its workforce.

The prospect of seeing the future workforce embrace this new technology lies in a company’s willingness to invest in upskilling their employees. At Verizon, we have been particularly focused on transitioning and retaining our tier one and two network operations centre (NOCs) workforce into new value areas as AI begins to overtake mundane, repetitive and tedious tasks.

We haven’t replaced people with machines, we’re just shifting the workforce to focus on high-value activities. As a result, we have seen our NOCs team willingly embrace new technologies and have seen a significant increase in engagement and productivity levels. The mounting pressure of AI is also pushing leaders, like myself, to be better. In addition to showing empathy to staff whose role is being directly affected by AI, as a team leader it’s important to stay ahead of the curve to ensure my team’s skill sets are constantly evolving. People don’t want to sit around and feel as if their skills are stagnating. They want to constantly be challenged and growing. Open discussions about implementing and delivering new technology such as AI into the business allows for this to happen.

Without transparency, people will think about the worst-case scenarios and turn to the victim mentality, which can be detrimental to a company’s morale and the overall workplace culture. Transparency can play a role in eliminating any cultural resistance against AI.

The data might exist but it’s important to be able to move through the data and manipulate as fast as possible. This will ensure that businesses can respond quickly enough to changes when necessary.

Implementing any new technology can be complex and therefore requires cross-functional participation. It was one of Verizon’s biggest internal lessons when one of our models needed to be deployed into the existing IT systems, however without early IT buy-in there were deployment delays.

When the ownership of a project is shared, it can help get company-wide buy-in. Any AI project that is conducted in secrecy by an isolated team will struggle to get buy-in – and that can be damaging as a result.

Rather than isolating an AI project, teams from different departments need to be included. Giving them the opportunity to be familiar with AI and how it will help deliver success and opportunities will develop buy-in now and for future projects.

Creating the right culture for AI to be successful is not a function or capability; it requires pervasive support. Without total cross-functional buy-in, businesses will struggle, especially if there are plans to do it truly at scale.

Leaders need to remember that good ideas don’t happen as a result of individual team members but through the input from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences internally and externally. It’s therefore crucial for leaders to repackage AI, which may be perceived as a threat, as an opportunity rather than a challenge to the business. If leaders do not take charge now, it can leave a company in disarray and fearful of the technology.

A mindset shift about the skillsets that businesses need to handle AI needs to also happen. There’s a misconception that AI is solely a technical practice and can be left up to the device of data analysts and scientist. Besides having technical capabilities, a business needs a significant amount of creativity and flexibility to tackle problems using AI. Businesses can draw on both creative and technical skills when there’s openness and transparency within a company.

We haven’t replaced people with machines, we’re just shifting the workforce to focus on high-value activities.

Along with staff skills, a business’ technology infrastructure is equally important. In classic IT fashion, most infrastructure is very static. Like people’s skills, infrastructure needs to be just as flexible and scalable, especially when doing data science. The data might exist but it’s important to be able to move through the data and manipulate as fast as possible. This will ensure that businesses can respond quickly enough to changes when necessary.

When the implementation of AI is handled properly, with early buy-in and complete transparency, it can be very powerful for a business and its workforce.

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