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Getting Board Members on Board: The Role of the CIO in AI Strategy

By Trevor Schulze

Regardless of industry, company board members are expected to have a viewpoint on artificial intelligence (AI) and a forecast for its role within their business. With the promise of massive productivity gains through AI capabilities, boards understandably want to dive in headfirst.

While the emergence of generative AI only amplifies those desires, boards may be overlooking one of their strongest assets—their chief information officers. CIOs have a crucial role to play in bridging potential knowledge gaps and helping boardrooms implement an effective AI strategy.

Alteryx recently polled 300 enterprise board members in four countries to understand how boards are thinking about and using gen AI. Though gen AI is just one piece of a much broader AI puzzle, these insights reveal how boards are interacting with one of today’s most dynamic technologies.

An overwhelming majority (76%) of the board members we polled use gen AI in some capacity, either actively implementing AI across their business or experimenting with AI in select cases, our survey revealed.

Remarkably, nearly one out of every four respondents (22%) rated themselves as having an “expert” understanding of the technology. Only 43% sought expert counsel regarding gen AI. Of those looking for advice, just 12% say that they are turning toward the CIO for input.

This disconnect might be a missed opportunity for boards to work with a technology leader uniquely positioned to help AI succeed within their organization.

Elevating the CIO’s Perspective on AI

In an era when gen AI is dominating the AI discussion, the truth is that many technology leaders are still grappling with the intricacies of the technology. Even Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently conceded that he and other experts “don’t fully understand” certain elements of AI systems.

CIOs offer a unique perspective on AI, especially on managing the risks and defining the benefits this new technology might bring. Many boards may not recognize the value of the CIO’s holistic view of the organization in crafting the right strategy. This is why CIOs must work to establish themselves as the go-to resource for leadership on AI.

The evolution of AI is happening in real-time, so an occasional conversation with board members won’t suffice. CIOs must seek out time with the board and establish a regular dialogue to keep them updated.

If board members aren’t already seeking their opinion, CIOs must set up informational workshops or Q&A sessions that help spark meaningful conversations and establish themselves as a resource. Amid so much AI hype, organizations need their CIOs to manage the scramble, keep boards focused on business outcomes, and answer all their questions.

3 Tips for CIOs to Act as Advisors to the Board

A successful CIO and board member relationship requires consistent communication.

As a first step, boards and their CIOs must align on a shared vision of the business impact of AI, beyond just the technical aspects. AI deployment isn’t about launching a series of pilot programs and seeing what sticks. Thinking big is the foundation of AI strategy, but it’s equally important to start small, and from there, begin to move quickly.

Once in agreement on the mission, a few key considerations can help CIOs serve as critical AI advisors to board members.

1. CIOs must understand and communicate both the potential and limitations of AI in the context of business impact. The CIO needs to recommend where to invest first, based on business objectives—not necessarily just the technical capabilities of an AI tool. And boards cannot overlook ethical, compliance, and legal limitations when deploying AI. They must prioritize those projects with the most immediate potential impact.

2. Ongoing education is the only way to stay informed—for boards and CIOs alike. The learning curve for AI systems is through the roof, so to become a true expert, CIOs must continually seek out their own resources to learn about the latest advancements and understand how other organizations are approaching their deployments.

3. As AI evolves, so will your strategy. This flexibility requires CIOs to continually benchmark and workshop their strategies to remain sharp. Benchmarking and case studies help communicate progress to boards, which are generally less involved in day-to-day deployment. Showcasing how AI affects specific areas of the business, or highlighting where the business could use it, can inform better decision-making.

As AI continues to evolve at a record pace, the CIO may be the most important go-to resource for board members looking to get smarter about the technology and hone their strategy. An open line of communication between CIOs and their boards can help ensure leaders understand the opportunities and potential risks of AI and can fully maximize its benefits.

Learn more about the Alteryx AI Platform for Enterprise Analytics.

Trevor Schulze is CIO of Alteryx.

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