Management in a Post AI World According to CMI Companions

Wednesday 17 April 2019
What impact will artificial intelligence and matching learning have on management and leadership? CMI Companions explored the issues at a roundtable discussion
Futuristic image of person

You can’t escape artificial intelligence (AI). Politicians worry about the potential for millions of lost jobs. The media gets excited about the latest robots. No investor presentation goes by without a reference to the company’s “machine learning” capability.

In all this debate, definitions are important, and Maggie Buggie CCMI, global head of SAP Leonardo Services, brought powerful clarity to the subject at a CMI Companions roundtable.

AI, she said, is fundamentally about computing power; computers’ ability to be able to think for themselves, and adapt, based on information that they process. Right now, she explained, there are four main types of artificial intelligence in mass circulation (AI):

  1. The automation of processes – organisations moving away from a heavy dependence on people
  2. Agents/chatbots – The use of agents and bots within, say, call centres and online Help functions.
  3. Influencing consumer and human behaviour – this could be, for example, Amazon predicting what you are interested in and making product recommendations based on your previous behaviour.
  4. AI embedded within smart products.

Deep and machine learning has been around since the late-1960s, Buggie pointed out. The difference today is the mass capability of super-computers and the volume of data that’s available.

Buggie provoked discussion when she talked about ‘the intelligent enterprise’. In future, she said, every organisation will want to operate in this way, with the ability to adapt in real-time on the basis of data-driven insights.

But applying ‘edge technologies’ such as AI to business outcomes is a fearsomely challenging task. Too many organisations believe they can start with their front-end experience but, said Buggie, “the ones who are making the real difference are thinking about a fully converged business model” - ie, data driving predictive analytics, feeding into systems and, ultimately, changing organisational culture and behaviours.

“Our ability to change as humans is mission-critical to the future development of AI,” said Buggie.

A new gen of super-managers?

In terms of its impact on jobs, Buggie believes that AI will create new jobs and that many repetitive tasks will be replaced by machines. Right now, she said, managers spend 54% of their time on mundane tasks; AI will enable managers in future to focus on higher-value activity.

Use of AI breaks down traditional functional silos, Buggie said, but “invested political capital” can prevent the full deployment of cutting-edge technologies. “Not everyone wants all the benefits on offer, especially when it might lead to job cuts. It’s not always seen as a ‘no brainer’.”

AI will lead to fundamental changes in what it means to be a manager, said Buggie. This is, of course, a central concern for CMI members and a subject we’ll be returning to in much more detail. Buggie pointed, intriguingly, to the emergence of “super-managers” who will thrive in a world where AI is pervasive. “The best managers are the ones who are comfortable at the very interesting confluence of data and also have real emotional intelligence,” she said. She also said “something magical” happens when you pair off experienced managers with the smartest brains in data science.

The impact on jobs. The impact on organisational design. The emergence of a new generation of “super-managers”. AI is unleashing fascinating, profound questions that we’ll be exploring regularly. There’s much to play for…

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