IT Brief UK - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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UK firms warned of AI project failure without skilled leaders
Thu, 21st Mar 2024

Hexaware, a prominent global provider of IT services, has issued an urgent warning about the risk of failure for businesses' AI projects unless the AI skills and leadership vacuum is speedily filled. The company noted that despite an increase in AI-related job postings, 75% of UK companies are still struggling to find the AI talent they require. Furthermore, merely over one in ten firms has a Chief AI Officer, which points to an ensuing shortfall in AI leadership.

According to Arun 'Rak' Ramchandran, head of Gen AI at Hexaware, businesses need to find leaders with the perfect blend of 'hard' and 'soft' skills in order to solve this problem. He suggested that leaders must be able to provide an interface between business and technical teams, as suggested by the Alan Turing Institute's guidance. Ramchandran further advised that given the scarcity of existing talent, companies should consider transitioning leaders from other roles to head up AI, reflecting the increasingly higher stakes involved.

The surge in AI and GenAI technologies adoption is leading organisations to risk of overspent investments and costly mistakes due to an AI skills and leadership vacuum. This vacuum threatens to thwart their efforts and hinder potential benefits. LinkedIn’s Future of Work Report unveiled a 21-fold increase in job positions mentioning AI technologies between November 2022 and August 2023. However, AWS found out that nearly three quarters of UK organisations are still struggling to secure the requisite AI talent. Another recently released report disclosed that just over one in ten firms have an assigned Chief AI Officer, indicating a significant shortfall in AI leadership.

As Ramchandran warns, organisations are creating substantial difficulties for themselves by increasing their deployment of AI and GenAI without the qualified persons who comprehend it and can supervise it. He piquantly stated, “Organisations need a clear game plan and vision for where AI can add value in the long term, or else they risk projects that will not deliver a strong return on investment. Worse still is the potential for regulatory non-compliance, IP leakage, or lasting reputational damage if employees fail to adjust for objectionable or non-compliant outputs, or inadvertently mishandle sensitive data, due to a lack of proper AI guardrails, governance and oversight."

To address this woeful shortfall, organisations vastly need AI & GenAI leaders with a well-balanced mix of ‘hard’ skills, such as technical knowledge of models, architecture, data & security, and ‘soft’ & semi-soft  skills around governance, change, and people. An effective AI leader, according to The Alan Turing Institute, must be able to liaise between technical and business teams. The institute states that the best candidates often originate from within.

In a lot of instances, transitioning an existing leader with the appropriate basic skills and mindset to lead AI can enable organisations to capitalise on their profound knowledge of the workforce and business strategy. Organisations can enhance the soft skills of this leader with the technical expertise of trusted external services partners who are well-versed in AI technologies to aid in driving informed, strategic decisions. Ramchandran reaffirmed that "The stakes are too high for organisations to engage in AI without proper leadership and a clear, strategic vision."