It is no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to take the world by storm. But what exactly does that mean if you are a business leader? It means you need a strategy, and you need to act fast.
Just ask Mark Fields, the former CEO of Ford who was replaced back in May by Jim Hackett, head of their future focused Ford Smart Mobility division. Though it will take time for any company’s internal AI capability to grow, the time to get started is now – and waiting might end up costing you at lot more.
What is Your Game Plan?
Beyond the dwindling profits motive for Ford, we are talking about entire industries and their supply chains being transformed at unprecedented speed. Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods suggests that even successful, profitable companies, in what most would consider a non-tech sector, are not immune to changing times and technology disruption.
We have already seen early AI adopters like Facebook, Google, Uber, Microsoft and IBM establish new standards for data analysis and customer experience, and those standards will continue to sharpen as more companies take advantage of this technology. With $1.7 billion invested in AI startups in Q1 2017 alone, and the exponential efficiencies created by this sort of technology, this evolution will happen quicker than many business leaders are prepared for.
If you aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry – you’re not alone. The good news is that you still have options:
- You can acquire, or invest in, an innovative technology company applying AI/ML in your market, and gain access to new product and AI/ML talent.
- You can seek to invest as a limited partner in a few early stage AI focused VC firms like BootstrapLabs, gaining immediate access and exposure to vetted early stage innovation, a community of experts and market trends.
- You can set out to build an AI-focused division to optimize your internal processes using AI, and map out how AI can be integrated into your future products. But recruiting in the space is painful and you will need a strong vision and sense of purpose to attract and retain the best.
- You can use outside development-for-hire shops like new entrant Element.ai, who raised over $100M last June, or more traditional consulting firms like Accenture, Capgemini, and others to fill the gaps or get the ball rolling.
What’s more, these options are by no means mutually exclusive. On the contrary, as an executive leader in the digital era, you need to adopt a lean and iterative philosophy around execution: build/partner/buy, measure, learn, and double down on what’s working for your company.
The best companies in the world are already doing this, and many more are preparing to do so soon. Are you?
Connect to the Community and Start Building
Since our second annual Applied AI Conference back in May, which gathered over 700 senior executives, we have been amazed at the level of enthusiasm surrounding the AI advancements and possibilities taking shape across all industries.
What was once but a body of research has given way to massive investment, adoption, and before long we will see large-scale market adaptation taking place well beyond the current use cases. The technology is there, ready for action, and an amazing community has formed around it, across many important industries.
Over the last several years, BootstrapLabs has lead the way in connecting this community. From the technologists and evangelists to the entrepreneurs and investors, we are much more knowledgeable and capable together than any one of us could be alone.
The same principle applies to your business. The talent war around AI is already raging, and as you build your strategy, you need a plan for attracting and retaining top personnel. This means that you have to do more than just “lip service” or “innovation theater” and execute in all aspect of your business to make AI part of your brand and core infrastructure. Your stakeholders will first ask for it, then quickly demand it.
Okay, you’re sold on creating and executing your AI strategy – but how do you prepare for the unknown?
Not only must you focus on adapting for the near-term impact that AI will have on your market, but you must build out capabilities which will set you up for long-term success. This is where your leadership is so important.
Create and mobilize an ecosystem of human capital, venture capital, and technology that will help your organization sail through the seas of change. Empower your domain experts with a robust and agile business strategy, and the innovation will happen more organically.
The puzzle pieces are all there, it’s just up to you to start putting them together. You have much to gain. As Akli Adjaoute, President and CEO of AI company Brighterion suggests, we are talking about “10x ROI for enterprise: you could solve problems within a minute using this technology, instead of weeks.” This opens up space to solve bigger and better problems, increasing employee engagement and productivity and reducing the risk of inefficiencies eating away at your margins.
Don’t wait to be in Mark Fields’ position. Be remembered as the visionary leader that managed to plan, take action, and come out ahead of this challenging innovation curve. Just reflect back on the move that Mark Zuckerberg made with Instagram in 2012. He chose to spend $1 billion (10% of Facebook’s valuation at the time) to buy a revenue-less, two year old mobile photo sharing company – and invested several million dollars since to keep supporting its growth.
He knew that mobile was transforming everything, and Facebook had to stay relevant. Seeing how far we’ve come since this move, you would take that bet any day of the week. Now let me ask you: How much of your market cap are you investing in your AI transformation today?
If the answer is not enough, not fast enough, then refer back to the above section on game plan and reach out to the community!
Corporate investment in artificial intelligence “is predicted to triple in 2017, becoming a $100 billion market by 2025,” writes Ray Wang of Harvard Business Review. He and his colleagues agree that “the question now is not about whether managers should investigate adopting AI, but about how fast they can do so.”
Don’t be mistaken, though – you can’t do it overnight. Developing your AI capability will take some serious effort, commitment, and consultation from multiple invested parties in the space before it can really take flight.
Never forget that innovation and entrepreneurship is a team sport, so ask yourself, who is on my team?
Ben is the Co-Founder of BootstrapLabs, a leading venture capital firm, based in Silicon Valley and focused on Applied Artificial Intelligence.
Some of BootstrapLabs’ portfolio companies include Prezi, AngelList, Zerply, Trusted Insight, AEye, Qurious.io, Roger.ai, Vidora, and Sibly.
Born in France and living in Silicon Valley for the past 18 years, Ben is a repeat entrepreneur who launched, built, and exited two startups in the financial technology space. Read more.