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How to manage the cultural and operational impact of AI

Organisations will need to address workplace fears of potential job losses, manage change and improve their talent mix to drive success in AI adoption

The latest advances in generative AI have rapidly propelled AI forward. AI no longer functions as just a technology or business tool; it is making an impact on society comparable to the advent of the internet, the printing press or even electricity. It is just on the verge of reshaping society as a whole.

In business, AI is becoming so impactful and so pervasive that it requires new skills from people in non-technical roles. Business leaders and executives will require these new skills to lead effectively.

The number one skill is critical thinking, and people need to learn how to work with AI in an effective manner. AI is increasingly powerful, but it has its limitations and can make mistakes. We all know about hallucinations, but there are also other issues related to the reliability and risks associated with AI.

It’s important to develop a vision for the role AI should play in your organisation, tailored to its unique situation or industry. It’s important for leaders to initiate ideation or facilitate their people to think about the ‘art of the possible’ – the practical, concrete opportunities for AI to be used in the organisation. Is it in customer service, in manufacturing, or in making better operational or financial decisions?

It's about understanding what your competitors are doing and being prepared for the impact of AI or the arrival of new market entrants disrupting your industry. Preparing isn’t just thinking about AI – every organisation should at least start learning about AI now or further expand any activities that the organisation may already have in place.

Workplace impact

Organisations need to address workplace fears of potential job losses incurred from AI technological advances. This can be done by emphasising that the goal of AI is to augment human capability, not replace it.

We don’t expect to see that AI will massively replace people anytime soon. In fact, Gartner predicts that by the end of 2026, despite all the advances in AI, the global job impact will be neutral — there will not be a net decrease or increase.

There are a few tasks that organisations can fully automate today with AI, but in the vast majority of cases, it will augment those tasks. Fundamentally, AI will democratise knowledge access, thus making services provided by knowledge workers more affordable. This, in turn, will lead to more demand and more jobs. Gartner predicts that AI solutions introduced to augment or autonomously deliver tasks, activities or jobs, will result in over half a billion net new human jobs by 2033.

It's not only a matter of AI augmenting people to be more productive and to be more efficient, but also to improve the quality of their work.

Generative AI, in particular, will directly alter tasks such as content creation, question answering and discovery, translation, document summarisation and software coding. But how it will transform individual jobs is more challenging to predict.

For example, knowing generative AI will disrupt copywriting and customer support doesn’t tell you what it means for the people providing those services in your organisation. Your business context will determine whether you use the technology to make employees more productive, possibly reducing headcount over time, or reconfigure these roles to provide new types of services.

Operational strategy

AI will affect each organisation differently, so consider the unique situation of your organisation. It's about asking, what are we going to do ourselves, and what are we going to do together with partners, if any?

It’s also about recognising that it isn’t just about technology. The organisation still needs technical people that have the right AI skills, but you also need people who can work with business stakeholders to identify their requirements to make sure that AI is implemented effectively.

Managing change

The most successful use of AI requires more than a technological investment, it's also about a change in the business. We all know that change can be difficult – it requires a certain mindset and can meet resistance. It’s important to emphasise how important AI will be for the future of the organisation, and help to facilitate that change by offering people the time they need to learn about AI and how the technology can be applied in the enterprise.

The best practices we see from organisations that are leading in AI adoption are those that are also explicitly addressing the range of worker attitudes to AI, but sentiments vary widely. Some people are overly optimistic, thinking that AI is a miracle cure that will solve all their problems. Disappointment is almost inevitable when your expectations are that high.

At the other extreme are people that are fearful about losing their jobs. In between are people that are rightly concerned about AI’s trustworthiness and the risk of bias and discrimination when they start applying the technology. Identifying, managing and mitigating those risks is another key element to how your organisation should be thinking about AI.

Pieter den Hamer is vice-president analyst at Gartner. He covers AI and related topics such as data science, optimisation and decision intelligence. His focus is on future trends, strategy, innovation, governance, ethics and best practices related to AI.

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