CIO Day: IT leaders reveal why soft skills lie at the heart of driving change

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Decisions are now made in the context of a conundrum, they said.

At this year’s CIO Day, Boyd Chislett, chief business officer at Liquid Intelligent Technologies, facilitated an engaging roundtable entitled ‘Emerging tech: Using AI, blockchain and IoT to drive change’. While the conversation started on the technology itself, it quickly became apparent that the day’s theme – focusing on talent and skills in times of AI – was top of mind for everyone in the room.

The conversation kicked off with a few CIOs sharing how AI, in particular, has ramped up efficiency in their organisations. A CIO at a legal company commented that his organisation was part of a pilot for ChatGPT, which has significantly impacted productivity. An example he gave was in the regulatory space, where a single spreadsheet can contain 3TB of data. It used to take seven months to collate – with AI, it now takes just six weeks.



AI will improve productivity – but it can’t be at the expense of people

“It’s been about creating value, being practical, and improving the productivity of our practices,” he said but noted that organisations must also consider what value they keep versus what they give back to the client. “There are significant people implications from a structural perspective; a lot of the work in my industry is done by expensive resources, and this is going to change,” he added.

Another CIO, who is in the travel services industry, added to this by saying that his organisation’s first AI implementation happened during Covid to simplify clients’ travel request approvals. He noted that emerging technology like AI will replace people, but as tech leaders, CIOs need to think about what that means. “We can’t contribute to unemployment. Part of our automation journey now involves providing travel data to customers that used to be collated manually by data analysts,” he said. “However, we upskilled them to become developers, so they didn’t lose their jobs.”



Navigating complexity and context

A CIO at a major banking institution noted that because the environment and technology is changing so rapidly, CIOs need to move from linear thinking to exponential thinking. “Blockchain, AI-driven predictive analytics, cognitive automation, now generative AI… the net gain is massive to do additional work and speed of execution, but new skills are needed, like intellectual capability, emotional intelligence, and judgement,” she noted.

The conversation then moved on to the all-important discussion of skills – particularly the need for soft skills in the age of AI.
A CIO added that if disruption is the norm, CIOs must navigate complexity through synthesis by bringing together tech and people. “The more novel I become at the synthesis, the better I can navigate the complexity. You’re not deciding between good and bad; it’s in the context of a conundrum.”



The CIOs present all agreed that, regardless of the tech, they can’t make decisions without context, and the soft skills of critical thinking and intellectual curiosity enable an individual to navigate this conundrum – because humans understand context, not machines.

Boyd noted that a core skill everyone will need is EQ because you can’t train people to make decisions using swathes of data without context, ethics, and collaboration. “Anyone can consume the information, but interpreting it is key – even with emerging tech, it all comes down to skills,” he concluded.

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