Crafting your AI strategy: 3 tips

If you think of AI only as a way to streamline customer service or offload complex human tasks, you might miss a big win
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You may think of AI merely as a way to make customer service more efficient, or possibly as a means of performing some complex tasks your human employees currently do. But it can also be a solution to a fundamental problem CIOs face today, says Kalyan Kumar, CTO of IT services company HCL Technologies. “IT leaders are faced with two rapidly diverging requirements: Keep the lights on in the most cost-effective way possible, and support ever-increasing business needs of speed, agility and scale,” he notes.

[ How will AI affect you and your organization? See our related article, 5 TED Talks on AI to watch. ]

The competing pressures to meet service level agreements (SLAs) and manage costs while creating new technology initiatives and staying competitive has led to a lot of frustration. In some cases, CIOs are handing off new initiatives to chief digital officers and chief innovation officers. AI may not eliminate the frustration, but automating as many processes as possible can help overwhelmed IT departments. Here’s Kumar’s advice for making the most of AI:

1. Look beyond obvious use cases

"How useful is a smart chatbot at the front end of a complex user-facing process when the back end is still manual and legacy?"

“One of the biggest traps IT leaders can fall into is focusing all their energies on low-level task automation and solving individual problems,” he says. Instead, look for the larger impact AI can have on your enterprise. “Deploying AI-enabled technologies to automate higher-level decision-making can bring much greater benefits,” he says. 

“It’s natural to gravitate toward low-hanging fruit such as customer support through chatbots. How useful is a smart chatbot at the front end of a complex user-facing process when the back end is still manual and legacy? It might be a better experience, but it will still be a broken experience.”

2. Use AI to coordinate business processes 

When you implement not only AI but also an orchestration process, AI can really come into its own, he says. “AI-powered orchestration allows enterprises to be ‘alive,’ but automating across entire value chains and business processes,” Kumar says. 

What exactly is an orchestration process in this context? Imagine a flight that is canceled due to bad weather. That sets off a whole chain of necessary tasks, including informing air traffic control, rescheduling passengers, rerouting luggage, freeing up an airport gate for a different flight and so on. Orchestration ties all these systems together so that all these tasks are performed once the flight cancellation takes place. 

3. Create a master plan

“One common challenge IT and business leaders run into is not starting the AI journey with a long-term roadmap that not only considers current and future business needs but also the enterprise’s current IT environment,” Kumar says. So before you launch an AI-powered initiative, take some time to consider how this technology might fit into your long-term goals. That’s the only way to fully reap the benefits of this new technology.

“It is all good to dive into the exciting world of AI,” Kumar says. “But without the proper plan and framework, this can soon turn into a string of partially successful cool projects that cost a lot of money.” Instead, he advises, “Build an informed strategic roadmap for deploying the transformational power of AI.”

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.