CIOs’ concerns over generative AI echo worries from the early days of cloud computing

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When I attended the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in May, it struck me that when I heard the CIOs talk about the latest technology — in this case generative AI — I was reminded of another time at the same symposium, around 2010, when the conversation was entirely about the cloud.

It was remarkable how similar the concerns about AI were to the concerns I heard about the nascent cloud several years ago: companies were worried about governance (check), security (check), and responsible use of the new technology (check).

But the 2010s saw the start of the consumerization of IT, where employees were looking for the same kind of experience they got at work at home. Soon, when IT refused, and refusal was the default in those days, they started resorting to “shadow IT” to find those solutions on their own. Until things went into complete lockdown, it was fairly easy for employees to work on their own.

Today, CIOs recognize that if they deny generative AI, employees will probably find a way to use these tools. There are plenty of legitimate concerns when it comes to this technology — such as confusion or who owns the IP — but there are also concerns about security, compliance, and control, especially of data, which large organizations demand and require.

But the CIOs who spoke at the conference were far more realistic than they were 15 years ago, even though their concerns were similar.

“You know, everything is out there and democratized,” said Akira Bell, CIO of Mathematica, speaking on a panel called “Sustaining Competitive Advantage in the Age of AI.”

“I think someone else already said this morning, ‘You know, we can’t control this moment.’ We can’t and don’t want to be the agents of ‘no,’ of telling everybody what they can and can’t do, but what we can do is make sure that people understand their responsibility as actors and users of these tools.”

Bell said that today, instead of saying no, she is promoting responsible use of the technology and looking for ways to improve her customers’ experience with AI. “So one thing is about governance, making sure our data is ready for use, making sure our employees understand what best practices are in place as they go forward and use them.”

The second part is really thinking about how they use generative AI to enhance their core capabilities, and how they can use it on behalf of clients to create, enhance or replace existing service offerings for their customers, he said.

Bell said you also need to pay attention to the security component, so all of these things matter. His organization can provide guidance on how to use these tools in a way that is consistent with the company’s values ​​and doesn’t restrict access.

Angelika Tritzo, CIO at GE Vernova, a new spinout from GE focused on alternative energy, is taking a deliberate approach to implementing generative AI. “We have several pilots at different maturity stages. We probably, like many others, don’t fully understand the full potential, so the costs and benefits don’t always align perfectly,” Tritzo told TechCrunch. “We’re finding our way with all parts of the technology, how much to partner with others versus what we have to do ourselves.” But the process is helping her learn what works and what doesn’t and how to move forward while helping employees become familiar with it.

Chris Bedi, CDIO (chief digital information officer) at ServiceNow, said things will change in the coming years as employees will start demanding access to AI tools. “From a talent perspective, as organizations try to retain talent, which is a hot topic, no matter what the job function is, people want the talent of their job to stay. I think it would be unthinkable to ask your company’s employees to do their job without GenAI,” Bedi told TechCrunch. Moreover, he believes talent will start demanding it and questioning why you want them to do work manually.

In this regard, Bedi says that his company is committed to teaching its employees about AI and creating an AI-literate workforce, because without guidance people will not be able to understand how to make the best use of this technology.

“We created some learning paths so that everybody in the company has to take their AI 101,” he said. “We built that in and selectively created 201 and 301 (levels) because we know the future is AI, and so we have to make our whole workforce comfortable with it.”

All of this suggests that even though the concerns are the same as they were in the previous wave of technological change, IT executives have probably learned some lessons during this time. Now they understand that you can’t shut it off. Instead they have to find ways to help employees use generative AI tools safely and effectively because if they don’t, employees will probably start using them.

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