CIOs Embrace Innovation Amid the Rise of AI and a Shifting Geopolitical Landscape

May 15, 2023
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Thank you to everyone who attended and participated in the 13th Metis Strategy Digital Symposium. As 2023 approaches the halfway point, leaders convened to discuss the rapidly changing economic, technological and geopolitical landscape and its impact on strategy in the months ahead.

Highlights from the event are below. Stay tuned to the Metis Strategy Youtube channel and Technovation podcast in the coming weeks for recordings of individual panel discussions. 

A changing geopolitical landscape and the rise of generative AI  

As tensions continue to escalate around the world, technology leaders must understand and prepare for new geopolitical dynamics. Jared Cohen, Co-Head of the Office of Applied Innovation and President of Global Affairs at Goldman Sachs, argued that the notion of hyperglobalization ended before the COVID pandemic and that the world now faces a reorientation of supply chains and capital flows. 

Technology executives are playing close attention to changing value chains and alliances. “Technology is changing geopolitics, and geopolitics is changing technology,” said Cohen. One of the biggest areas where technology is currently influencing geopolitics is in the area of generative AI, which Cohen dubbed as the “most disruptive experiment in anarchy” since the internet. He warned about the risk of people deploying large language models for “bad use cases” to cause real problems in international systems. While there is significant discussion around which companies have superior large language models, he noted a desire for the conversation to focus more on the implications of generative AI for the world. 

George Lee, another Co-Head of the Applied Innovation Office at Goldman Sachs, said generative AI is dominating discussions with boards and management teams around the world. While its rapid growth offers many fascinating possibilities, it has also disturbed the human desire for order and linearity. Lee noted how creators are being constantly surprised as the emerging technology develops. “Anyone who tells you they know where this is going, how fast it’s going, and what our destination is, is just wrong.”

MSDS attendees say customer service is a top AI use case in 2023.

Preparing organizations for generative AI at scale 

While conversations around generative AI have taken the world by storm, technology leaders today play a key role in translating the hype into reality. That means not only vetting new use cases for the technology, but also educating their teams about the benefits and risks of generative AI and creating policies that encourage innovation while ensuring responsible use.  

The three areas that leaders expect innovation to deliver the most value in this year are customer experience, internal process transformation, and product/service development.

“It takes courage to take a step back and say, maybe let’s not fall into the hype, let’s go about this in a methodical way,” said Digi-Key Electronics CIO Ramesh Babu. Babu created a community of practice around AI that includes stakeholders from across the organization and a list of key terms with consistent definitions to keep everyone on the same page. He also created a network of influencers within the company that serve as “education ambassadors” for the organization.  

Allen Smith, CIO at Baker Tilly, recommended leaders approach generative AI like they would any other technology. “There is a difference between home runs and singles. Singles in this case are your front. Go do something, show it, have a tangible example,” he said. “Now, it can be used to fuel the really good ideas.” He also expressed concerns about the security and privacy risks that generative AI poses, noting the dangers that may arise from inputting sensitive data into services like ChatGPT and the need to identify and mitigate potential bias.

Utilizing design thinking, and customer focus, to drive innovation

As companies continue to navigate an increasingly complex and competitive landscape alongside shifting customer demands, innovation will be a key source of differentiation for industry leaders. Many organizations find that design thinking frameworks help to formulate the strategy and direction that will help ensure they can harness that innovation effectively. 

Michael Newcity, Chief Innovation Officer at ArcBest and President of ArcBest Technologies, highlighted the importance of empathy and deep listening to uncover unsaid user needs. To advance design thinking, Newcity has sponsors responsible for thinking through ROI, teams, timing, and other tactical factors that will help gain executive sponsorship and drive innovation initiatives forward. 

Rob Krugman, Chief Digital Officer at Broadridge Financial Solutions, discussed the importance of understanding the value proposition for their customers’ customers, then working backwards to deliver value for Broadridge clients. “If we can solve the needs of that end customer, our client’s customer, the likelihood of us being correct is more likely than not,” he said. Across the ecosystem, “we’re all generating value, and we have a much better understanding of how to actually present and tell that story around value.” His team also works with the VC community to stay on top of emerging technologies and asks hypothetical questions to try and understand their impact on Broadridge. 

Krugman laid out two different types of innovation: sustainable innovation, led by the product organization, and disruptive innovation. The key to both: “iteration, iteration, iteration, all based on validation.”

Modeling change from the top down 

No matter the scope of a change initiative, whether adopting an emerging technology or implementing agile ways of working, leaders must act as role models for change within their companies and drive cultural transformation from the top down. 

Over half of respondents indicated that employee engagement is the strongest signal of organizational culture.

Hyatt Hotel Corporation’s CIO Eben Hewitt, who is working to nurture a product mindset and drive enterprise-wide behavior change, said engagement starts with the CEO and executive board. “When you see a boss acting that way, then you act that way,” he said. “You have to model it.” Hyatt also uses a “people playbook” to easily guide teams to resources they need for specific use cases, and Hewitt has encouraged the development of high-level cultural principles that inform behaviors throughout the organization.  

Ultimately, culture is the most important driver of any organizational change. While many are familiar with Peter Drucker’s quote,“culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Ascension Chief Digital Officer Rajan Mohan added that “culture eats transformation for lunch.” At Ascension, Mohan has helped lead a transformation that includes a digital product orientation, end-to-end accountability and a focus on Ascension’s mission to reach underserved communities. With that shift has come a new mindset, as well as metrics that are more closely tied to business outcomes. “We’re not just measuring for measurement’s sake,” he said. “It is to demonstrate and deliver continuous value.”

Kathy Kay, CIO at Principal Financial Group, said driving cultural change requires leaders first and foremost to be their authentic selves. That includes a willingness to be vulnerable. “If you can’t show vulnerability…I think it sets a tone for people feeling less open,” she said. In addition to bringing that openness to her role, she works with peers at Principal to ensure leaders are giving teams necessary support, removing blockers, and helping them understand how their contributions matter. Kay also discussed the importance of adapting communications to local norms, particularly when working with teams across the globe.

Building a high-performance culture is of course linked to finding and developing the best talent. World Fuel Services CIO Josh McLean said some of the best people typically look for three things in their work: aspirational goals that give a sense of purpose; challenging work that helps them learn and grow; and being surrounded by other highly talented people. “I try to make sure those things are all present and in harmony, or a work in progress to get there.”

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