Does Artificial Intelligence Need a Seat in the C-Suite?

In Technology by Daniel NewmanLeave a Comment

Does Artificial Intelligence Need a Seat in the C-Suite?

It seems like every time you turn around, businesses add another seat in the c-suite. Chief Data Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief User Experience Officer, and so on and so on. There have been a lot of articles about artificial intelligence shaking up the c-suite and gaining a seat at the table. But a recent article by Harvard Business Review, “Please Don’t Hire a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer,” really made me wonder: is hiring a CAIO really necessary—or is it something that could lead companies down the wrong digital path?

Don’t get me wrong: businesses worldwide—in nearly every industry—already have AI teams leading research and development projects, and spending millions on the promise of AI. In fact, a completely different Harvard Business Review article actually promoted the concept of hiring your first CAIO, and I could see his points, too. Because AI holds so much power and potential, one could argue that neglecting to pull these teams into the leadership fold could be a fatal oversight. Still, I’m not convinced. Below I offer some counterpoints to consider.

AI Alone Does Not—and Will Never—Create a Successful Business

Do you remember when the dot-com bubble was growing? Who can forget Pets.com and its popular sock puppet mascot, which was interviewed in People magazine and on Good Morning America. Pets.com even advertised in the Super Bowl and made an appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade—talk about fame and fortune. But during the dot-com bust, the company lost $300 million and went belly-up. Why? Simple: As noted in the Harvard Business Review piece, “Innovation initiatives only succeed when there is a solid understanding of actual business problems and goals.” Pets.com was later described as being “weak on fundamentals.” Without those fundamentals, nothing can survive—no matter how cute its sock puppet—or how strong its AI—may be.

There are Already Enough Cooks in the Tech Kitchen

As noted above, we area already tripping over the number of tech executives in the c-suite, from the CIO and CDO to the CTO, CUEO, and the increasingly tech-oriented CMO. Granted, all of these roles are constantly evolving along with our customer bases, especially as we continue to learn more about data and how to harness it. But what will a CAIO do that a CTO or CDO can’t? Hiring new talent because it is trendy or popular will only lead to confusion—and mounting overhead. Rather than hire a new executive, encourage your current team to consider new ways AI can be utilized to solve your current problems, and work back from there.

A CAIO Could Lead to More Silos—Not Fewer

We talk a lot in the digital business landscape about the importance of breaking down silos and other legacy org-structures to increase communication and get the company moving forward on the same page. But hiring a CAIO could increase the division within your tech department, rather than lessen it. For one, the CAIO could focus so heavily on developing AI that he or she fails to properly coordinate and collaborate with other IT teams. As noted above, the CAIO could also give the impression that the glamour of AI for AI’s sake is equally important as the business goals that should be driving the tech decisions. Either way: a losing situation for your company.

There is no stopping the progress of AI. As it becomes easier to use and build, it will inevitably find its way into your business or organization. But from my perspective, there is no reason to rush that process. As with any successful business, the most important thing is not to adopt trendy solutions, but to adopt solutions that fit your business goals and problems. Does adding another body at the table do so? Or will it just add more clutter and overwhelm to an already crowded digital landscape? For companies like Google and Amazon, which are building their companies names on digital innovation, the addition of CAIO might make perfect sense. But I’d venture to guess most of us don’t fall into that category. And I didn’t even need Big Data or AI to tell me that.

Additional Resources on This Topic:
The Changing Role of the CMO: From Order Taker to Growth Driver
The CIO’s Role in the Digital Transformation Process
The Biggest Value CIOs and IT Teams Can Deliver: User Experience
Who Leads Digital Transformation: Not the CMO

Photo Credit: emilehaddad Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on FOW Media.