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Many organisations are excited about the potential of AI, but still treat it as part of their technology strategy. To succeed in the digital transformation race, leaders need to see AI as an integral part of their business. So we developed an AI Business School to help train this next generation of digital CEOs.

We already use AI most days without thinking twice. Whether it’s helping us plan a journey, identifying fraud across millions of bank transactions, or suggesting the next video to watch on YouTube: cognitive technology is making our lives easier and giving forward-thinking businesses the ability to differentiate.

We’re most familiar with AI in a digital context―on websites, apps, and smart devices―but it’s transforming other industries too. Robotic process automation is helping manufacturers streamline production. Machine translation is facilitating global communication and trade. And cities are analysing data from millions of car, train, and pedestrian journeys a day to make it easier to get around.

The AI ship hasn’t sailed yet

A woman presenting in a business meeting.Businesses could be forgiven for thinking that they’ve missed the boat on AI, but that’s not the case. According to our Maximising the AI opportunity research paper, 51 percent of UK business leaders say that their organisation does not have an AI strategy. A similar number (49 percent) say that they use no AI at all in their day-to-day work. And more than a third (37 percent) say their organisation isn’t thinking about AI at all.

The AI opportunity for those who do make the leap is too significant to ignore. We found that organisations already on the AI journey are outperforming others by 5 percent. Those that have invested in establishing the right approach are 9 percent ahead.

However, as with any aspect of digital transformation, AI must be more than a technology add-on. It means taking numerous social and human aspects into consideration, building a strategy around a well-defined business need, and tying it to your overall organisational goals.

AI demands a new breed of business leader―digital CEOs, who combine technical expertise with business acumen. They must recognise the potential of AI to their business, as well as be aware of its broader impact. Businesses that don’t have this leadership will find it harder to turn AI to their advantage.

You can do this―but should you?

“How?” is the most tempting question to ask when considering AI, but digital CEOs know that asking “Why?” is just as important.

When it comes to AI, we found that companies that ask, “Should we do this?” outperformed companies that ask, “Can we do this?” by 9 percent on average. They are also 28 percent more likely to seek to improve the world.

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s never been quicker, easier, or cheaper to get an AI proof of concept up and running. But it must be led by clear guidelines that ensure fairness and transparency in how smart systems make decisions, responsibility about which processes are automated, and protection for people’s privacy and dignity. And given consumers’ increasing awareness about how their data is used, security and data protection must stay front and centre.

Developing an AI strategy for your business

While the destination is clear, the road may not be. Make no mistake: AI is not something you can switch on overnight.A woman working on a desktop.

But businesses can get quick value from their AI initiatives if they take the right approach. According to Clare Barclay, Chief Operating Officer at Microsoft UK, “The most important thing about AI for business isn’t the technology―it’s the problem that you’re trying to solve.”

Don’t try and bite off more than you can chew with your first AI project. The really big goals are too vast, too distant, and keep moving. Instead, focus on small projects to deliver a fast return. If the aim is building a smart, autonomous delivery vehicle, for example, start by finding a way to plot a route through a congested city.

Help your AI heroes lead by example

There are thousands of places to learn about the technical side of AI, but few resources to help business leaders develop the skills to become digital CEOs. Our AI Business School provides four learning paths to help current and future digital CEOs master the strategy, culture, ethics, and technology of AI. All modules are self-paced, available on demand, and free of charge.

The research cited in this article comes from Maximising the AI opportunity. In this paper, you’ll find deep analysis of the UK’s AI opportunity, advice for building a strategy, and interviews with UK business leaders who are already using AI to digitally transform their organisations.