In the age of AI, the role of the CAIO will be indispensable (and here’s why)

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AI underwent a paradigm shift in November 2022, pivoting from a technology advancing in the background to a frontstage disruptor. Fast forward to now and we’ve already reached the next phase of generative AI, with consumers embracing the technology and organizations beginning to invest at-scale. 

Gen AI stands to fundamentally shift how businesses function and thrive. Put simply, it will rework work, particularly among knowledge workers.

Organizations that emerge from this moment of disruption as leaders will take a holistic approach to capturing the new value opportunities and enabling their workforce.   

It’s been six months since I became vice chair of AI and digital innovation at KPMG U.S., our version of the latest C-suite role emerging: The chief AI officer (CAIO). The past six months have been marked by successes and hurdles, but one thing that my experience has confirmed: An empowered, accountable leader in the C-suite is critical to pursue bold, fast and responsible AI. 

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Many have asked me if this role should be filled by an established tech leader — such as a CIO, CTO or CDO. My response is quite simply: “No.” Without a doubt, tech leaders play a critical role, but the sheer magnitude and ubiquity of how gen AI will change the way we work and live requires a new visionary that balances technical understanding with business acumen, strategic foresight and innovation.  

The disruption may be overhyped right now, but it’s under-hyped in the long run. This role requires someone who understands both the disruptive nature of gen AI and how to mobilize an entire enterprise. As organizations move beyond pilots and use cases to industrialize the technology across entire functions and enterprises, I’m sharing three insights from my experience.  

Establish governance that allows you to be bold, fast and responsible (all at once)

With the fast pace of adoption, and rapidly evolving regulations, companies are grappling with how to progress their AI strategies in a safe, ethical manner. First order of business for a new CAIO?  Putting trusted AI guardrails — not speedbumps — on the AI highway to be the pacesetters for those that follow. 

CAIOs should ask three key questions as they start mobilizing their governance programs: Can you identify everywhere AI is being used today across your organization? Do you have a responsible use policy governing the use of AI and someone at the helm to oversee it? And, do you have an efficient approach to monitor and manage your policy and controls? 

At KPMG, we launched our trusted AI framework in October and established our trusted AI council to guide decision making and help us stay vigilant about potential. We grounded our principles in 10 ethical pillars, from sustainability and security to fairness and privacy. While all businesses may have their own approach to building and deploying AI, a solid approach to governance is necessary to allow companies to move fast and boldly innovate.  

Get AI into the hands of your people

Over half consumers say gen AI has a significant impact on their professional lives now, and even more believe it will have a significant impact on their professional lives in two years.

These numbers increase significantly for younger generations. However, the jury is still out for many on just how it will change their professional lives. The unknown can feel daunting, but familiarity breeds comfort. Organizations can help address employee fears by putting gen AI in their hands using safe and secure systems and by providing training and development.  

Perhaps more importantly, broad accessibility is how you spark the innovation curve with gen AI. A top-down approach to use cases is unlikely to identify the most exciting opportunities, whether that’s a new product, business model or a massive productivity gain. We’ve found some of the most valuable use cases are emerging from our employees who were empowered with the tool over the last year. 

The good news is that organizations are keen to help their employees and many have already — or are planning to — provide mandatory gen AI training for employees. Whether or not your workforce is prepared will determine the success of an AI strategy. CAIOs must have the authority and influence to mobilize their organizations, from everyday knowledge workers to their leadership peers and the board. The need for a comprehensive change management and communications strategy cannot be understated.   

Strike while the AI iron is hot or risk getting leapfrogged

The cutting edge has one consistency: It doesn’t stay static for long. Gen AI has taken off faster than any other business technology in modern times and the companies that move decisively will gain significant first-mover advantages.

In this moment of disruption, AI-first organizations are likely to emerge as the winners; those who are slow to evolve may find themselves struggling to keep pace with their more agile competitors. The “fast-follower” advantage has dwindled with other recent technology advancements, and we may see it eroded entirely with gen AI. For CAIOs, this presents both a tremendous challenge and opportunity to lead their organizations into the future.  

Steve Chase is vice chair of AI and digital innovation at KPMG. 


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