Are you “Implementing” AI?

Did you learn nothing from your failed digital transformation?

AI – It is “the biggest thing since the internet”! “AI will transform business and society!”

AI is getting all the buzz and most of the early to mid-stage investor funding in tech today. As with every emerging technology, big buzz begets swarms of consultants, and suddenly every software product has some AI baked into it: “Our software now includes an AI module to produce your corporation’s strategic goals!” “Our software’s new AI module will transform your recruiting and performance management processes!” “Our new AI product will detect things that were created by AI!” Etcetera ad absurdum.

Yesterday I heard confirmation from several corporate leaders that they don’t have funds to support improving their organizational capabilities for strategy execution, but they DO have budget to fund “AI things”! The analogy that came to mind was of the homeowner who runs to the store to buy a hammer, before identifying any need for a new outbuilding or remodeling project.

Through the years of my tech career, the world has been “transformed” or “revolutionized” by the personal computer, the internet, the world wide web, Agile, cloud, “digital”, crypto, and artificial intelligence. Consulting and software companies promoted “transformation” engagements or products to exploit each hype-cycle, essentially running the same playbook (assessment, change management, culture shift, business model and op model changes, reorgs, strategy adaptations, leadership development, etc) as if each new tool a carpenter adds to his box requires a retraining in carpentry and a redesign of his shop.

True digital and Agile transformation (rarely attempted and even more rarely realized) produces the adaptivity and ability to explore, innovate, and adopt new technology tools for competitive advantage in a systemic and repeatable way. The fact that organizations are continually implementing “transformations” for each and every new item on the hype-cycle proves that they never developed the organizational capabilities that REAL Agile and digital transformations should have conferred.

Is it surprising that so many big expensive digital transformations failed? Hardly – according to the business journals, 70% of corporate strategic initiatives fail. Given digital transformation is really about culture, business models, adaptation and innovation at both the strategic and operational levels, it’s not surprising most fail. What’s sad is that having failed to implement the capability to adapt and seamlessly integrate new tools and techniques to achieve higher competitive advantage, organizations are faced with a never-ending series of “projects” to “implement” new tools without the benefit of strategic clarity on what outcomes this new tech should deliver or what measures would validate the value hypothesis that the tech was even helpful. Without broad vertical and horizontal alignment on strategic objectives and measures of progress, “implementing” hyped technologies is just chasing shiny things at great expense and distraction.

Do you agree? Have you seen organizations who consistently explore and integrate innovative technologies in a holistic way that always delivers high impact business results? And more importantly, when AI becomes sentient and self-aware will it use OKRs to focus and align the robot hordes on their mission?