For CEOs, Generative AI Starts with Data and Culture

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I’ve been working with artificial intelligence (AI) startup companies since 2017. Early on, AI was sacred, a concept understood by a handful of data scientists. At the time, few C-suiters realized that generative AI goes beyond technology – it’s about shaping culture. After all, you can’t integrate something people don’t understand or know much about at a strategic level. Strategy is the realm CEOs and other top leaders operate in.

The World is Talking About Generative AI

Then came the AI ChatGPT. In a few short months, people everywhere were talking about it. That alone tells a story. Aside from the fun fact that ChatGPT passed the entrance exam to Wharton Business School, it democratized AI. Whether it’s the original jukebox invented by Louis Glass in 1889 or the advent of music libraries and personal playlists via iTunes and the iPod in 2001, technology must earn internal buy-in for wide scale adoption. Growth-driven leaders achieve this by fostering a culture of learning, curiosity and innovative thinking.

On my show CXO Spice, I had the opportunity to discuss revolutionizing integration with Generative AI and making AI part of the culture with Software AG CEO Sanjay Brahmawar. Born in India and raised in Belgium, Brahmawar is a self-described “citizen of the world” (and the first non-German to hold the CEO post at Software AG). He was “odd man out” among his family of fighter pilots, instead pursuing a degree in civil engineering followed by a master’s in finance and marketing. He served as general manager for global revenue at IBM’s Watson IoT and managed the company’s global business of data analytics and artificial intelligence software products. He and I have a lot of shared interests – from parenting sons to embracing nature to prioritizing learning. I can’t help but wish I could have worked under a CEO like him.

“We’re living in a world where we generate massive amounts of data on a daily basis,” Brahmawar emphasizes, “and there’s so much that we already have created. We’re in that place now where technology can integrate that data.” Giving meaning to relevant data is what Software AG’s more than 5,000 employees do every day. Software AG builds connectors that simplify the connected world of “things” like sensors, devices, robots and machines so organizations can tap into the power of data. I asked him why this was important. He said, “To deliver innovation faster, be more agile, customer-oriented and relevant – and create more value.”

I don’t know a CEO who doesn’t want these growth drivers for their company.

Have a Question? Ask Data

Brahmawar says that generative AI invites people to ask questions from “vast pools of data.” That data, he says, is probably in different locations, different sources and is not harmonized. Software AG’s technology removes these constraints by connecting and integrating data, applications, processes, devices, and clouds across the enterprise business leaders can make more decisions, faster decisions, and more informed decisions.

Decisions are the CEO’s secret weapon and is one reason generative AI has reached the C-suite. While supply chain disruption is a declining topic of conversation for CEOs, AI and generative AI was in the top three topics, according to IoT Analytics. McKinsey & Company calls generative AI the next “productivity frontier” with the potential for adding trillions of dollars to the global economy. According to its report, about “75 percent of the value that generative AI use cases could deliver falls across four areas: Customer operations, marketing and sales, software engineering, and R&D.”

Software AG develops its technology in large part based on use cases. Its platforms help speed up testing with emerging technologies, like generative AI, as the next stage of their digital transformation. The trend is for the technology to be available and then for companies to experience a tech lag, while people catch up in trying to use it.

By producing connectors for webMethods that integrate these AI engines directly into customers’ platforms, Software AG speeds up the process of getting these tools into the hands of people who want to experiment, test, trial or investigate them.

Software AG’s recently announced webMethods AI is a new platform that automates the creation of connections between systems. This will not only alleviate the strain on technical resources, but also remove the constraints of modern-day iPaaS and change how companies operate by putting more control in the hands of business users and how they connect their apps.

Through StreamSets, a Software AG company, organizations remain in full control of their data by using tools to create transparent data pipelines.

Change is Inevitable. Growth is a Choice.

Years ago, during my time as a solution architect for Oracle, I realized that the true value of data lies in the meaning it holds. Many organizations have hundreds of data sources, making the deployment of AI complex. Connectors offer speed and agility, enabling information and insights to flow more freely, and transforming data into value. Modern AI is no longer an abstract concept or an inevitability. Brahmawar is confident about generative AI’s potential. He puts it this way: “The train has left the station. We’re going to leverage this technology, but I think there are things we can do to do that in a responsible way and protect our people and businesses.”

At Software AG, Brahmawar has encouraged this bold yet deliberate approach to generative AI for employees and clients. Here’s his advice to fellow leaders:

Educate your team. Brahmawar has tasked his leaders to form small groups and talk about generative AI as a way to foster innovation and keep employees at the forefront as the technology rapidly evolves.

Foster knowledge-sharing between teams. Encourage teams who are experimenting with generative AI to share their learnings with the rest of the organization. Software AG created internal channels for various teams leading the charge on its generative AI innovation to share what they’ve learned. Progress can’t occur in a silo. The more freely knowledge can be shared across the organization, the farther and faster it can go.

Consider the data. There are many different kinds of data – from zero-based data to first-sourced data. Generative AI taps into data pools, but first you need to know what and where they are. He says that it’s tempting for CEOs to look only at financial metrics, but there are other benchmarks like customer satisfaction, net retention rate, resell/upsell/cross sell opportunities to consider.

Know the employee value proposition around generative AI. How will it make it easier for them to deliver value to clients; open up possibilities to attract talent; create a great environment; and increase productivity and reuse or reduce waste?

Put checkpoints in place. Keep humans in the loop, especially when data risks are high. “Protecting data and respecting privacy is critical,” he says.

As a board member for a fast-growing conversational AI company, there’s not a lack of interest from companies about generative AI, but rather concerns around risk management, inherent bias, plagiarism, misinformation and how to connect AI with business impact. None of these are small mountains for CEOs to climb so I asked Brahmawar for his advice to fellow leaders like himself. As interesting as generative AI is, his answer was even more profound. He paused and said, with great humility, that “we’re all learning.” He advised CEOs to be honest and say they don’t know. This inspires a culture of curiosity and vulnerability. Furthermore, he encouraged sharing the excitement surrounding the opportunities generative AI presents while prioritizing risk management.

And his last thought? “Let people drive innovation.”

Data and culture, the two go hand-in-hand. It is within this intersection that CEOs will find the courage to transform their organizations. This is where they will create a strategy that defines their leadership legacy, improves the lives of their customers and team members, and shapes the next 100 years for their organizations.

Posted in AI