Navigating Digital Seas: IT Leaders in an Era of Disruption

Avanade CIO Ron White provides strategic guidance to help a new breed of IT leaders leverage emerging technologies such as generative AI while mitigating associated risks.

4 Min Read
woman leading a meeting around a table with laptops

Just as mariners navigate swells at sea, our economies face the ups and downs of emerging technologies. Some view innovations like generative AI as potential challenges, akin to choppy waters. However, others see them as pathways to smoother sailing and brighter skies. I am with the smooth sailing crowd — and I have solid data to back up my position.

For its Generative AI Readiness Report, Avanade surveyed 3,000+ business and IT executives in 10 countries around the world, all from companies with at least $500 million in annual revenue. Unsurprisingly, more than 90% of respondents said their organization needs to shift to an AI-first operating model within the next 12 months — that's this year — to stay competitive.

That's the business equivalent of a sea swell, and a large one, at that.

Navigating this level of change will require a new type of IT leadership. While the foundation of what is required to support a major corporation remains, today's challenges call for a level of leadership skill and business acumen that has not traditionally been part of the job description. IT is no longer off to one side making sure all digital systems are working smoothly. We are doing that while also being called to be full business partners with peers from the executive team. This shift underscores the necessity for a new breed of IT leaders, ones who embody distinct attributes and skills tailored for today's multifaceted business environment.

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Wanted: Courage and the Ability to Manage Risk

In the past, implementing bold technological ideas required substantial financial investment. Today, advancements like generative AI are more accessible, costing a fraction of what they did previously. Despite the reduced costs, the necessity for comprehensive change programs remains paramount. Generative AI is not a simple plug-and-play solution; you can't just turn it on. Effective IT leadership now demands not only the courage to innovate but also a profound understanding of change management principles. IT leaders must provide wise counsel on strategic deployment, ensuring that these technologies are integrated thoughtfully and effectively. Additionally, forming close partnerships with legal teams is essential to navigate the new levels of risk and compliance issues that generative AI brings.

Wanted: Deep Understanding of How to Monetize Data Assets

IT leaders are not just tech wizards, but savvy data merchants. Imagine yourself as a store owner, but instead of shelves stocked with physical goods, your inventory consists of valuable data, insights, and AI/ML products. To succeed, they need to make their data products appealing by understanding customer needs, ensuring products are up to date and high-quality, and organizing them neatly. Offering value-added services on top of data, like analysis and consulting, can further enhance the appeal. By adopting this mindset and applying business principles, IT leaders can unlock new revenue streams.

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Wanted: Focus on Data Governance and Ethics

With AI becoming more pervasive, the ethical and responsible use of AI is paramount. Leaders must ensure that data governance policies are in place to mitigate the risks of biased or discriminatory outcomes, especially when AI models are trained on biased datasets. Transparency is key in AI, as it builds trust and empowers stakeholders to understand and challenge AI-generated insights. By building a program on the existing foundation of culture, structure, and governance, IT leaders can navigate the complexities of AI while upholding ethical standards and fostering innovation.

Wanted: Ability to Embrace Both Smarts and Heart

Just like today, leaders will need to have a balance of intellectual (IQ) and emotional (EQ) intelligence to manage in the AI-infused workplace. On the IQ side, leaders will need to have a vision for the AI-first world in their organizations and know where it can be used to free employees to spend more time on complex tasks and enhance productivity. But, even more important, EQ and people-centric skills will be critical to evangelize the positive impacts and keep people engaged, address anxiety around the changing workforce, and help them reskill to focus on new ways of working and thinking. In fact, with advanced analytics producing insights far greater and faster than the human brain is capable of, the "softer" management skills will be more important than deep subject expertise or raw intelligence.

Changing Seas Ahead

All of this adds up to new challenges and untold adventures for the next generation of IT leaders.

I'm confident it's a voyage none of us will want to miss.

About the author:

Ron White, CIO at Avanade, leverages extensive experience from his roles at Avanade and Owens Illinois to drive technological innovation and risk management. With a background in delivering top-tier digital solutions using the Microsoft ecosystem, Ron offers invaluable insights into the evolving role of IT leadership.

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