AI is coming into your organization, whether you like it or not.
If you’re not convinced, just watch the May 2023 Google I/O keynote or the recent Microsoft announcements. At their most recent demo days, Google released 17 unique AI products and integrations, and Microsoft released 12.
Over the next 1-3 years, AI is going to impact almost everything you do as a business – from software development to performance management to hiring.
It’s time to put someone in a leadership position to lead you through this change.
Meet your Chief of AI.
Why do we need a Chief of AI (aka, can’t the CTO just do it)?
AI is going to affect every department at your company. Here’s a short list of everything we think it will impact over the next 3 years:
- More software, faster (no engineering layoffs any time soon)
- Tech vendor costs will go up and labor costs will go down
- Some of your younger workforce will become AI-native (quickly) and the rest will need to develop their comfort fast
- You’ll need to rebuild incentive alignment / performance reviews around AI usage
- Stress and anxiety in the workforce will increase 10x compared to the pandemic, once AI is embedded, as people question their value
- Every workflow will incorporate AI, and some work will be outsourced entirely to AI agents
- Strategy will become the most important skill set for your human employees (as Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”)
- You’ll have to pay more to recruit AI talent in your business functions, creating pressure on your pay scales
- Collaboration will change from human + human to human + human + AI
You need someone who can look at your business holistically, identify the opportunities for AI, manage each department through the piloting process, and report back on progress. This person should own the mandate to take your business from status quo to full adoption within three years and work cross-functionally to make it happen.
The CTO can’t do it – they’re already managing point 1 (more software and more engineering hires). And HR shouldn’t do it, unless they’re the right type of person for the job – initiatives tend to die in HR.
What are the Chief of AI’s job responsibilities?
At a high level, the Chief of AI’s mandate should be to take your organization from “status quo” to “100 use cases for generative AI inside the business” within three years.
On the ground level, that means the Chief of AI is responsible for:
- Evaluating the business’ AI readiness according to risk tolerance, resources, and buy-in [use our Optimize / Accelerate / Transform framework]
- Identifying the biggest opportunities for AI within the business
- Prioritizing AI projects according to potential ROI vs. level of effort
- Greenlighting pilots / prototypes and project managing their implementation
- Establishing KPIs for AI projects and tracking ROI
- Measuring and reporting on success, and advancing successful pilots to the next stage
- Communicating the AI vision and roadmap across the company
- Aligning departments and stakeholders on the company’s AI vision
Take a lesson from the CDO, and make sure the job is well-defined. The average tenure of a CDO is only two-and-a-half years, in part because expectations are high (major transformation change) but details are fuzzy on what the job is responsible for.
Who is the right person to staff as Chief of AI?
First of all: You probably don’t have to hire out for this role. People marketing themselves as Chiefs of AI will be expensive because they’re trying to capitalize on an urgent opportunity (see also: CDOs).
Instead, look for someone in your org with these traits:
- Consultant in front, project manager in back – in other words, they understand the business holistically and have a deep project management / organizational streak. They have the analytical skills to spot the biggest opportunities and the PM chops to manage cross-functionally to get things done.
- Hypothesis-driven and risk-tolerant. They know how to design a test and execute it quickly, and they won’t take forever hemming and hawing about risk (though they have an innate sense of the guardrails).
- Strong communicator with relationships across the business. Your employees probably won’t want to integrate AI because it takes time and disrupts existing processes. Your Chief of AI needs to convince them – so they need to be persuasive and connected cross-functionally.
- Believes in generative AI. Even if your Chief of AI has all the other traits, they won’t succeed without a deep belief in the potential of generative AI for your business.
Keep in mind – this person doesn’t need to be a technical AI expert. They should know enough to know what they’re talking about, but you can eventually staff their team with prompt engineers and data experts as well.
Should this role be centralized?
Yes, for 24 months – but they should have influence within departments, and their success should be measured on the number of AI use cases running across the organization.
If your centralized roles tend to get mired in bureaucracy and decision-making, consider assigning the Chief of AI to a few, fast-moving departments and demonstrating progress there before centralizing the role.
Who should the Chief of AI report to?
The Chief of AI should report to a business function rather than a technical one, and their primary focus should be implementing AI inside the organization (rather than integrating AI into customer-facing products, which is the Head of Product’s role).
Their boss should probably be the CEO at a small company, or a credible and aggressive C-suite exec at a larger company.
Some will assume this new role should report to HR – but in 95% of organizations, this will likely fail. HR is a more defensive function, and the Chief of AI needs to be on offense.
Other options could be to report to the COO or the CDO, if you have one and if the role has already proven itself at deploying technology and change inside the org.
What should they be measured on?
- Integration of AI throughout the company, measured by employee surveys (e.g., “How often do you use AI in your daily work?”)
- Employee morale related to AI, measured by employee surveys (e.g., “How well do you feel the company has integrated AI into our processes in the last year?”)
- Successful launch and implementation of 5-6 AI pilots and prototypes in the first year
- ROI of greenlit projects coming out of pilot / prototyping phases
Is the Chief of AI a full-time position?
If you can afford it, then yes. If you make AI a side project, it’ll get deprioritized in favor of more urgent work.
If you can’t make it a full-time position, then we recommend making it the highest priority for the person assigned to it, and making it clear that their performance review will be heavily weighted around its success.
What are other companies doing?
Chief of AI is still a new role, but companies are moving fast. As of this August, there are 2,000 Chiefs of AI or Heads of AI at U.S. companies, and around 350 job openings for Heads of AI on LinkedIn.
Many of these positions combine the Head of AI with a data and analytics role, but that may be an error. Your AI leader should be, first and foremost, a business leader who understands your company’s strategic vision and business operations.
One good example: Geoff Taylor, the new EVP of AI at Sony Music. Appointed in June, he has a background in policy, strategy, and communications, and is responsible for “aligning every part of the Sony music business that touches AI.”
Steal our internal job description for Chief of AI
About the job
The Chief of AI will be the driving force behind the implementation of AI at [company]. They will identify opportunities to use AI within our business, partner with departments to stand up pilots and prototypes, measure and report on progress, and serve as our main evangelist for AI with internal and external stakeholders.
This is an exciting role that has the potential to transform our company. We will be looking at internal applicants before we post this job publicly.
- Note: This position is open to all business functions and does not need a technical background
- 5+ years of experience managing complex cross-functional projects
- Experience with pilots and prototyping, from establishing hypotheses to designing and running tests to reporting out on results
- Holistic understanding of the business and our goals and metrics
- Strong relationships across functions
- Excellent communicator with strong writing skills
- Experience (non-technical) with generative AI and a strong belief in its ability to transform our business
- Evaluate our business’ AI readiness and identify the highest-ROI opportunities for AI within the company
- Prioritize AI projects according to potential ROI vs. level of effort
- Greenlight pilots / prototypes
- Project manage pilot implementation in partnership with department leads
- Establish KPIs for AI projects and track ROI
- Measure and report on success, including advancing successful pilots to the next stage
- Communicate the AI vision and roadmap across the company
- Align departments and stakeholders on the company’s AI vision
Want to master AI strategy for your business? We've got you.