It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since Gen AI first took the world by storm. Since then, we’ve gone from a moment in time when AI was all about prediction systems, to thousands of moments where Gen AI can be used to create fabulous new content. Terrifying for many, and absolutely thrilling for me!
This morning, I enjoyed presenting at the Future of Tech + Innovation + Work event in Sydney to reflect on how quickly Gen AI is being adopted – and by whom. I challenged the audience to think proactively about how they can use Gen AI to disrupt their organisations, and their industries, with confidence.
I started by looking at where we are today, right at the very top of the ‘peak of inflated expectations’: that sense full of hype, excitement and some reservations about whether to be (cautious) first movers, fast followers or somewhere in between. Personally, I believe we’ll move through the Gartner Hype Cycle relatively quickly, in just two or three years. Australian leaders don’t have long to place their Gen AI bets!
The Gartner Hype Cycle
So, where to from here? The trick is in not misunderstanding Gen AI, because it’s much more than just another technology. It has the potential to reinvent your business and industry. It will enable organisations (and your competitors) to do things that were never even possible before.
Take the work of the Khan Academy, which has developed personalised tutors for students that can be rolled out to every single student. We know tutors make a huge impact on the learning outcomes of students, but the human workforce has never been able to scale to the challenge. Now, with Gen AI, that is a genuine possibility. Khan Academy has successfully reimagined what the education system might look like with this new technology by challenging the status quo and creating a new business model.
Gen AI is about challenging ourselves to reimagine our business – and looking at what this technology means as an exciting capability in our transformation toolkits for the businesses we’re in, how we can structure ourselves, the capabilities and skillsets we need … the list goes on. Gen AI touches everything and is unlike any technology we have welcomed before it.
Can we talk for a second about use case obsession? Yes, they will be the crux of delivering value – but I honestly see too much obsession with individual use cases. Many leaders are distracted by wanting to know about what their competitors are doing. Of course, there is value in use cases, but Gen AI can deliver so much more. When you unpick the fascination on a use case, you tend to find that leaders are looking for use cases because they don’t really understand what Gen AI is, or what it can do. When use cases that have gone before become the definition of what AI can do, that’s potentially problematic.
It’s risky to narrow your focus on known use cases, because that use case may not be the best opportunity for value creation in your organisation. This is where leaders play a vital role – leaders know their businesses best, including its pain points and opportunities – and when leaders work with the people who truly understand Gen AI, that’s where the magic happens. That’s when organisations can focus on the use cases that matter most to their unique organisation and turn their transformation dial, because they are most aligned to achieving the business strategy as efficiently and quickly as possible. It should always be business strategy – enabled by AI. Not a use case trying to orient itself to strategy.
It's time to focus on doing new things, not just on doing the same things differently. As well as thinking about use cases, leaders’ focus needs to transition from doing the same things their business has always done differently with AI, to also using Gen AI to do things that have never been possible before – to do different things altogether. That’s where the true Gen AI value lies. And that’s when competitors can be outstripped.
When it comes to Gen AI, we also need to take a ‘bi focal’ focus. In other words, avoiding looking at Gen AI benefits with just one lens, like productivity. We also need to think about using Gen AI to solve multiple pain points – by looking at problems through more than one lenses – including customer preferences, employees expectations and adding to the bottom line. Again, a great example of this is Amazon Go – where employees are doing their ‘value work’, enabled by Gen AI. When solutions like these are piloted, tested and rolled out they drive strong culture, which drives strong, sustainable performance on all fronts.
I encourage everyone to think about what different things their businesses can do to tackle any persistent pain points, enhance their customer experiences, strengthen employee engagement and transform their business not just tomorrow, but well into horizon 3. That may sound straight forward, but it’s not. To succeed, it needs whole-of-Executive alignment, with the entire leadership team sitting down as one Executive to invest in the right foundations in a coordinated way, and avoid focusing on just one part of the business. This is absolutely more difficult to navigate than a use case in a silo – but it’s also where there is infinitely more value; when you think of AI as a connected transformation agenda across the business.
Last but certainly not least, Generation AI. In our new report, Generation AI: Ready or not, here we come! we shared a range of insights about Gen AI adoption. For example, 32% of employee survey respondents use some form of Gen AI for work purposes, but nearly two thirds believe their manager does not know they use it. Only 9% of businesses have a Gen AI strategy (and ‘blocking Gen AI’ is not a strategy!). In contrast, 58% of today’s university students are regularly using Gen AI. They’ll be driving its adoption in multiple industries when they start their careers today, tomorrow, or next year. The opportunities lie in coupling these young digital natives who are familiar with Gen AI, with experienced business leaders who know their businesses inside out so that together.
Our research also maps 18 Australian industries and which ones will be most severely and quickly impacted by Gen AI. Those in the ‘Short fuse, big bang’ quadrant include Financial services, ICT and media, professional services, education and wholesale trade – and they represent $600 billion of the Australian economy – an incredible 26%.
Organisations that have invested in their data capabilities are best positioned to respond to Gen AI. Getting the foundations right for seamless Gen AI should be everyone’s priority, as this will underpin innovation, new ideas and unlock the art if the formerly impossible.
I truly believe large corporates and government agencies need to drive Gen AI adoption in Australia so the economy benefits at scale. It’s up to leaders to drive their organisation’s journey to become AI-fuelled – if they don’t, their competitors certainly will.