Breaking Barriers – Embracing AI and Automation for Business Transformation 4

At the 4th of our round table series co-hosted with Emerge Digital, it was notable how the conversation had evolved over the last year. Business owners are starting to ask questions like: what have other businesses done with AI? what sort of ROI have they had? what has been the impact of AI on people, really? and how can I use AI to develop and improve my business. All too often, though, they are still asking where do I start? We still believe that the adoption of AI is not just about the technology. It is about your business, and where there is opportunity to transform performance and disrupt your industry sector. And that means starting with clear business needs and goals, focusing on leadership and culture, and aligning technology implementation with these objectives. People are the key.

Attending our round table on the 6th March were:

Amy Holley-Cribbin – Co-Director @ Nomadic UK
David Hughes – IT Manager and CRM Architect @ Karndean Designflooring
Jon Graves – Chief Operating Officer @ GreenTeck Global
Oscar George – BI Manager @ Karndean Designflooring
Paul Harris – Founder @ Coacto
Peter Quintana – Director @ hgkc
Rob Sinton – Commercial Director @ TasteTech
Tom Henson – Managing Director @ Emerge Digital

Peter opened by presenting some insights on digital transformation to the group. A 2022 McKinsey survey illuminates a common shortfall, with most organisations realising less than one-third of the anticipated impact from their digital investments. This contrasts starkly with the broader industry sentiment that technology adoption is central to business transformation over the next five years, as per the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2023. This report further highlights a significant upcoming skills disruption, with an estimated 44% of workers' skills being disrupted in the next five years and a consequential need for extensive upskilling.

The promise of artificial intelligence (AI) as a catalyst for productivity is notably recognised, with predictions of a 47% productivity increase should AI be fully leveraged, according to The Access Partnership research in 2023. Yet, the challenges of digital transformation extend beyond mere technology implementation. Insights from various sources, including Raconteur and McKinsey, emphasise the critical role of cultivating an innovation-friendly culture, aligning vision with action, and prioritising talent engagement and development. The inefficiency plaguing the UK workforce, as identified by Obrizum, where employees waste significant time searching for information, underscores the imperative for a strategic approach to digital transformation. This approach should not only integrate technological advancements but also foster a culture supportive of innovation and aligned with the employees' journey, ensuring that people remain at the heart of transformation efforts.

Tom reflected on previous roundtable discussions which centred around fostering an innovation culture, mentioning Microsoft's approach to rewarding learning from failures. He emphasised the transformative potential of technology, particularly AI and cloud services, on the current business ecosystem. He pointed out that with AI, traditional tools such as CRMs could become obsolete, potentially eliminating the need for direct management of sales opportunities. He also touched upon the broader implications of AI integration in the workforce, citing Klarna’s recent news that it’s AI assistant can do the job of 700 full-time workers. While large enterprises may lean towards replacing staff with technological tools, the emphasis for smaller businesses could be on utilising these advancements to enhance customer experience.

Tom shared a statistic from Salesforce, indicating that sales personnel spend approximately 72% of their time on tasks not directly related to engaging with customers (admin, research, preparation etc.), underscoring the potential for technology to streamline processes and refocus efforts on customer interaction.

Using an example of an upcoming project that Emerge will be delivering for a client – an agricultural business which measures soil quality and creates reports - Tom explained how AI can be built in to speed up the process and allow more reports to be created.

After Tom gave more background in image generation tools like DALL·E 3 and Midjourney, and the group discussed the potential for AI-generated video content from Sora to replace traditional stock video sources like Shutterstock or Adobe Stock with more dynamic AI-generated content.

Tom showed an example of an AI-generated avatar using HeyGen, and then raised concerns about the security implications of AI, particularly in the context of deepfaking and voice recognition, signalling a need for ongoing vigilance and innovation in cyber security measures.

After providing some more detail on Microsoft’s suite of Copilots and what their capabilities are, Tom discussed the implications of AI on software development and coding, citing a claim that 40% of code on GitHub is now AI-generated.

Peter posed a question to the room – what’s the main barrier holding your business back from digital transformation?

Concern was expressed that AI could cause fear for job security among, for example, a customer service team. It looks like AI can be more effective and managed more easily than people can, employees may be afraid to embrace it if they think it will take over their job in a few years.

Tom countered this by stating that AI is not about displacing jobs but transitioning to new ways of working. He mentioned a Goldman Sachs report that predicted that AI could replace 300 million full-time jobs, but he suggested that these will be for workers doing repeatable tasks. In customer service, job losses would depend on what the company wants their customer service to do. They may want to free up humans to deliver service in different ways.

Jon advocated for embracing change, arguing that change is a natural daily occurrence and resistance to it is futile. He emphasised the importance of planning for future adaptations, including considering alternatives like hydrogen vehicles following electric ones.

Peter introduced the concept of horizons of innovation, mentioning Copilot as a prime example of horizon 1. He highlighted a significant shortfall in many companies: the absence of future planning and risk management within their board agendas.

Rob discussed the adaptability to change, noting that while significant changes in the past allowed time for adaptation, the rapid emergence of AI presents a unique challenge. This rapid pace has made it difficult for organisations and individuals to adapt as quickly as necessary.

Tom spoke about the necessity of embracing both speed and the possibility of failure in the quest for adaptation. He stressed that failure is not the end of the journey but a step in the learning process.

Jon reflected on his experiences, noting that decisions deemed incorrect one year could prove to be the right ones in hindsight.

Paul made a distinction between working "in" the business versus working "on" the business, highlighting the challenge of shifting focus from day-to-day operations to strategic oversight.

Peter pointed out that in many small businesses, directors are deeply involved in daily operations. He emphasised the importance of preparing managers to step up and take on more strategic roles, alongside directors understanding their legal obligations to work in the best interests of the business. Paul shared his goal of making himself the least important person in his business by empowering his team.

Paul said that the biggest question on AI from him and his own clients is ‘where do I start’?

Oscar had a similar question for his business, and thinks that Copilot looks like a great place to start for employees who would most benefit from the comprehensive nature of it, while deploying specialised applications for employees who only require AI for specific needs, based on cost and functionality considerations. Paul agreed that different departments will likely require different AI strategies.

Finally, Peter and Tom emphasised starting with clear business needs and goals, and aligning technology implementation with these objectives.

hgkc was born from the realisation that together our combined practical experience and knowledge can offer our clients a broader, deeper and richer experience that will deliver better results faster.