Emerging technologies such as automation, machine learning, and generative AI are reshaping companies and the roles within them. While it’s evident that these technologies will have a significant impact on manual tasks and mid-level management responsibilities, what do they mean for the upper echelons of organizations? Traditionally, CIOs have been responsible for overseeing technology within a business, managing the procurement and deployment of IT systems.
However, the use of AI has surged in the past year with the introduction of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and similar technologies. The rapid pace of development makes it challenging for CIOs, who already handle day-to-day IT operations, to oversee the implementation of AI. So, should businesses consider appointing a Chief AI Officer (CAIO)? Avivah Litan, a distinguished VP analyst at Gartner, suggests that some organizations are adopting this best-practice approach, citing global financial institutions that have appointed Chief AI Risk Officers reporting to CFOs or Chief Risk Officers.
However, Litan acknowledges that not every business faces the same risks as a bank and that many organizations may not be able to afford a dedicated AI officer. For most companies, a collective approach that brings together experts from various departments is the best way to address the risks and opportunities of AI. Task forces and clear responsibilities can help navigate the complex process of implementing and overseeing AI effectively across the enterprise.
Litan emphasizes that organizations must recognize that AI is not just another IT application. It requires a different approach to security, risk management, and business processes. Jarrod Phipps, Executive VP and CIO at auto specialist Holman, agrees that the need for a CAIO depends on the size and scale of the organization. However, he believes that having a senior executive responsible for AI is beneficial for most companies due to the new security paradigm introduced by AI. Phipps envisions a CAIO as someone who sits between the Chief Information Security Officer and a strategic data leader, ensuring that opportunities are seized without compromising security and privacy.
To address the challenges and opportunities of AI, Holman has established an AI council comprising senior-level individuals from different departments. This approach aligns with Litan’s recommendation of task forces. Lily Haake, head of technology and digital executive search at recruiter Harvey Nash, agrees that a CAIO may be necessary in the future as organizations pilot AI initiatives and data quality improves. Haake suggests that a CAIO would require technical expertise in areas such as algorithms, natural language processing, and machine learning, as well as compliance and regulatory oversight. The exact placement of the CAIO within the organizational structure may vary, but Haake proposes that they could sit under the CIO or Chief Data Officer.
However, Omer Grossman, Global CIO at CyberArk, believes that for companies that consider themselves technology businesses, AI will become an integral part of everyday operations. In such cases, another senior executive, such as the head of R&D or the Chief Product Officer, may take on AI leadership responsibilities. Grossman suggests that appointing another tech chief alongside the existing CIO, CTO, CDO, or CISO may not be necessary at this point.
While the idea of a CAIO may not be widespread currently, the future may bring a need for a dedicated executive overseeing AI at the highest level. As AI becomes imperative to every facet of business, a Chief AI Officer with a holistic view of the organization’s AI strategy could become essential. However, for now, businesses can benefit from cross-functional collaboration and task forces to navigate the complexities of AI implementation and management.