What Executives Really Need to Know about AI

May 01, 2024

Tips for Everyday Business, All Hypes Aside: Part 1 - Your Business with AI

These days, corporate decision-makers can hardly browse a website or crack open a journal without being flooded with good advice on how to use AI for the benefit of their company. But what is sound advice and what isn’t? Which fields should you focus on in your capacity as a manager, and where best to begin? To answer these questions, Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, and digitalization expert Martin Giesswein have summed up the most important and state-of-the-art “AI Thinking Points” in a 3-part series:

AI generated – is that what the future of business looks like? Picture generated with Magic Media by Canva
AI generated – is that what the future of business looks like? Picture generated with Magic Media by Canva
  1. Your Business with AI
  2. Your AI Strategy for the Upcoming Years
  3. Your Corporate AI Responsibility

Part 1: Your Business with AI

What Does AI Think about Your Company?

What information about your company did AI store and process during its learning phase? Just ask ChatGPT: “Is {my company} a good employer for {your profession}?” We asked this about the WU Executive Academy and received 2,073 characters’ worth of interesting feedback. As managers and HR heads, we’ll have to start thinking about ways to paint a truthful (and appealing) picture of our companies not just on platforms such as kununu but also on the foremost self-learning AI models, especially ChatGPT.

AI models often draw on Wikipedia entries as a source. A well-groomed and factually correct Wikipedia entry makes sure that your company is portrayed in a comprehensive and positive manner. Also, a clearly structured, well-maintained, and informative website will attract not just potential customers and partners but also potential employees. In the future, companies will rely on specialists for their proactive AI management just the way they have already hired marketing specialists for their search engine optimization (SEO) today.

Finally, a Leap in Productivity

One of the grand promises made by AI providers is a boost in productivity in our everyday business: just think of the texts, presentations, software, and web designs automatically created by AI in a matter of seconds. But how much time will this actually save us? Microsoft Austria head Hermann Erlach and his team have had the opportunity to test the AI functions embedded in the Office suite for a while now. He reports that these features save him about six to eight hours a week. As knowledge workers, we can entrust things to AI that used to take up hours and hours of work. For the moment, it’s mostly generating, optimizing, and translating texts with DeepL and ChatGPT that makes us much faster. But AI can also be extremely helpful as a sparring partner for new ideas or working out new concepts, opening up a great deal of time that can be spent on other projects.

The AI as a sparring partner for the marketing manager - a currently apt description. Image generated with Magic Media by Canva
The AI as a sparring partner for the marketing manager - a currently apt description. Image generated with Magic Media by Canva

And it can also speed up the collaboration between marketers and creative agencies. Instead of a verbal briefing and many misunderstandings – or “coordination loops,” if you’re feeling generous – a handful of quickly generated Midjourney images can point the way of a campaign. Graphic designers will receive a layout suggestion created by Canva or Adobe Firefly, which are both powered by AI, and either just take care of the finishing touches or know exactly what the customer wants.

In order to really make use of AI’s potential, however, we will need know-how within the companies to keep self-proclaimed AI gurus at bay. In your next recruiting conversation, just ask whether the applicant also has basic knowledge in AI tools in addition to the obligatory “MS Office skills.”

The Role of C-Levels

And now the big question: what does the boss think about the use of AI? In the current stage of generative AI, test-driving these tools is a must for executives: it can open their eyes and serve as a foundation for their strategic orientation at the same time. We have seen this time and again in our cooperation with customers, many of whom are currently building their own learning tracks to let AI know-how trickle down to every level of their company. At the WU Executive Academy, we are hosting tailor-made AI workshops for companies on a regular basis. Doing it online has proven best for this: a kick-off session of about four hours to start things off, after which the companies really need to hit the ground running to keep up with the lightning-speed development of AI. To help this along, we provide regular knowledge updates to the participants. But also good old reverse mentoring within a company is a perfect way to create more AI know-how. The digital economy and strategy 101s related to the corporate use of AI have therefore made the leap from the tailored company programs to becoming a staple of the WU Executive Academy’s MBA curricula.

Generative AI Is Only the Beginning

Even though generative AI, meaning the production of text, audio, images, and code, currently dominates the public debate, artificial intelligence is much more than that. Gerhard Kürner, one of the leading AI experts in Austria, predicts the (future) development of AI to take place in three waves:

  • The first wave, generative AI, is currently revolutionizing the creation of content through the use of machine-learning based on language and media models.
  • The second wave, synthetic AI, transcends the mere creation of content, focusing on integrating a variety of information sources in order to generate basic statements or a basis for decision-making. One example would be a complete visualization of the customer journey that not only captures the interests of customers but also provides a new basis for product development.
Image source: https://a16z.com/2023/03/30/b2b-generative-ai-synthai/

Image source: https://a16z.com/2023/03/30/b2b-generative-ai-synthai

  • The third wave, autonomous AI, will zero in on the creation of self-learning systems, which will be able to adjust to new situations and make their own decisions. This wave will have the potential of (once again) shaking industries such as the media, transport, health, or finance to the core.
Example of autonomous AI (AgentGPT), image: Martin Giesswein (in German)
Example of autonomous AI (AgentGPT), image: Martin Giesswein (in German)

AI Is Nothing Without Data – Do You Need Synthetic Data for Your Marketing?

Already today and very likely even more so in the future, the use of AI will be a true game changer, which will open up a plethora of new possibilities: Will our product be adopted by the target group? How can we improve our customer journey even further? How can we succeed in conquering new markets?

Many of today’s AI models have been trained on more or less random Internet data, but the people who generated these data have not been asked their permission to use them for these purposes. Making these data anonymous, however, would provide much less functional and meaningful results. One solution can be found in synthetic data created by AI-generated “personas.” Viktoria Dittes, a graduate of the WU Executive Academy, has investigated the use of such data for brand management and marketing research purposes in her MBA master’s thesis. Synthetic data make it possible to effectively test and optimize marketing strategies without having to rely on real customer data. The speed of these simulations is another benefit that can’t be ignored. The Austrian company MostlyAI currently offers specialized AI services in this vein.

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