The democratization of AI will be led by a new breed of 'mobilizers'

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A generation ago, IT departments led the way as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems were rolled out to integrate the management of core business processes. In the decades that followed, IT directed the launch of countless new technologies, including internet access and business software that fundamentally changed the way people work.

The consumerization of IT put power into the hands of users — employees rather than IT took the lead in adopting new technologies. By bringing the technology they used at home into the office, consumers disrupted IT’s control of enterprise technology. The next stage of workplace technology evolution, the democratization of AI, will be even more disruptive. And it’s already happening.

Before now, even if IT wasn’t in charge of the rollout of new technology, fundamental changes originated in engineering and R&D groups with advanced technical expertise. Those teams came up with new ideas and built business solutions. That will change in 2020, with ideas bubbling up from business units and technology adoption driven by people who don’t necessarily have deep technical expertise.

A New Breed of “Mobilizers” Will Drive AI Innovation

A game-changing book about the end of solution sales, “The Challenger Sale,” identified a new type of prospect for B2B salespeople: mobilizers. It describes mobilizers as change agents and urges salespeople to seek them out rather than cultivating friendly contacts. A similarly disruptive element is emerging in business units across enterprises: strategic thinkers who believe in AI’s transformative power.

This new breed of mobilizers drives adoption of AI because they’ve observed how the marketplace is changing and believe their organizations need to be data-driven and agile to be successful. They’re open to change, and they are thought leaders in their peer groups, so when they become convinced of a technology’s promise, they can convince others.

Like the mobilizers identified in “The Challenger Sale,” employees who mobilize their companies to adopt AI can drive change across the entire enterprise. Incidentally in that process, they can gain widespread recognition for innovation and become leaders within their organizations.

Early Adopters Will Set the Standard

In one real-world business case, a professional who focused on research and analytics at a large CPG company became a mobilizer for AI transformation. She was convinced that AI could give her company a strategic advantage and successfully made that case to her colleagues and leadership team.

Once deployed, the AI platform the company selected not only improved the company’s strategy by enhancing the research function for which the original mobilizer was responsible, it delivered scalable impact across the entire enterprise.

That outcome was good for the company, and it had positive career implications for the mobilizer too. Within a year, she was recognized for her leadership and promoted three levels up. She now leads strategic initiatives across her organization, using AI to improve operations from marketing to sales to the supply chain.

The Implications of AI Democratization

AI solutions have evolved significantly in the last several years. Today, users don’t need to be data scientists or technology experts to use AI — they can ask business questions and get answers and recommendations drawn from huge datasets. A potential mobilizer just needs the vision to see how incorporating AI into decision-making processes can provide a competitive advantage.

Given this reality, it no longer makes sense to wait for IT to lead the way on AI. In fact, technology is just one piece of an effective AI strategy: business context and an analytical framework are critically important elements too. So, it makes sense for the groundswell of AI advocacy to come from business units that understand context and know the analytical framework.

That’s not to say the IT department can’t spearhead AI adoption — it can. But it’s important to recognize the implications of AI democratization, which will resonate far beyond IT. AI isn’t just a supporting technology like ERPs were a generation ago. AI makes a whole new way of doing business possible, and the opportunities are limitless for those who mobilize to make that transformation happen.

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