CIO Day discussion reveals how IT teams are integrating evolving AI


CIOs discussed how they cater to the demands of evolving technology.

AI is going to cause an even bigger disruption than the internet did. This was the general consensus of those discussing integrating AI into IT teams’ processes, at CIO Day. Altron CIO Debra Marais, Josh Souchon, group CIO at Sasfin, and Nkosenhle Ngongoma, group CIO at Ascendis Health, weighed in on their AI strategies and company impact.

“Our biggest learning,” said Debra, “is that we don’t know a lot. Using AI to manage company processes is not something one does overnight, she added. While Altron offers AI to its customers, they haven’t used it extensively within the business, but have slowly started internally testing out AI capabilities.

As the company is in the process of replacing its sales CRM system, it used generative AI to analyse its current sales process and assess its future CRM options. They were surprised to learn that what they thought their sales process was and the data didn’t align. Questions around their understanding of their business processes and data were therefore raised.

“That was a really good mirror moment,” said Debra. Now, it’s a question of whether the business is ready for the culture shift required for using a generative AI tool in building a new sales CRM system going forward, something they are still debating.

“I learnt that using the tool even just to discover where our weaknesses were, has probably been the greatest benefit to us, putting us in a better position in terms of where we’re at and what we’re doing,” said Debra. “Should we choose to use it, the capability of the AI tool, which we can tweak to meet our needs, is huge.”

However, the tool is owned by a third party, which is where concerns lie. “I see the power of what these tools can do, and now it’s a question of how we grab that and make that transition.”

Sasfin’s experience with AI has been ongoing over the last few years, said Josh. As a bank-controlling company that provides a comprehensive range of specialist financial products and services for business and wealth clients, a big part of Sasfin’s business strategy is partnership.

While AI doesn’t execute trades, it provides an advisory role, for example on how to balance portfolios. “It fills a supportive function; we don’t use it to make decisions, but rather to provide guidance,” Josh explained.

ChatGPT is used on a case-by-case basis, the way Sasfin approaches any technology. “The big change for us is that we opened up ChatGPT to the whole organisation, unlocking the firewall that had previously been in place,” says Josh. “What’s interesting now is that a lot of people in the organisation are now using it effectively as a personal assistant, ‘help me with this proposal’, and so on. We’re still at a pure assistance level, not the thinking stage.” Yet, everyone agreed, in time, we will ultimately get to that stage.

Sasfin is also currently assessing ways to use AI to optimise client journeys, to do financial analyses of businesses to determine what credit they can provide and more. “We see with AI and particularly ChatGPT, that now everybody is part of IT,” he laughed. While AI is daunting and we will all make mistakes, it’s about learning from these quickly and moving forward positively, he added.

For Ascendis Health, working in a complex environment means that the AI strategy changes every day, Nkosenhle said. Using AI in their service desk, the company received a summary of what users were saying about their service, what needed to be improved and the quality of technical and personal support they were getting. “We were able to get that data in a few seconds and shared that with our customer services department.”

They are also pushing emerging technologies to staff. “Many ideas are also coming from the business team, who understand business better than us.” So, when it comes to implementing AI, it’s about collaborating throughout a company and going beyond just the IT team. IT is therefore taking a guided approach to AI and is working to create the right balance between running a business and adopting new technology.

Discussion attendees argued that AI does and will continue to play a complementary role to the people in organisations. AI’s success is in augmenting people to be more productive, they said, by taking laborious work away. AI will never have a vision – that’s something that only we as humans have. Rather it will be a tool for people with vision to realise this vision more quickly. And therein lies its value.

Rather than fearing that AI will take over our jobs or trying to control it, added Debra, we need to embrace the opportunities it brings, the new insights it offers that we otherwise may not pick up. We need to consider the risk of not adopting AI, she pointed out, which could be far more detrimental to our companies.

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