Punks, Geeks and Superfreaks - Katie King interview

Punks, Geeks and Superfreaks - Katie King interview

Katie King heads up AI in Business, a digital transformation consultancy. She’s also behind the new book ‘AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing’, which launched at R² Factory in London’s Portland Place. We grabbed some airtime with Katie to talk about breaking out of comfort zones, why digital transformation isn’t a technology programme and remembering that AI is not the boss.

Why is digital transformation so hard?

It’s not hard so much as it is overwhelming. Digital transformation asks us to step out of our comfort zones and put trust into technologies that we may not have really used before. It’s a change in our status quo, and that can be uncomfortable.

What big things do you need to consider when deploying AI?

Start with a strategy. You want to start your journey on the right foot to ensure that the course you set out on is the right one for you, your organisation, and the goals you want to achieve.

The strategy you devise will be unique to your specific problems and the needs of your business, and provides a critical foundation for everything you do next. AI projects fail due to an absence of concrete goals. If the base isn’t there, then you risk spending lots of time and money on a project and a tool that is not going to achieve what you want it to. 

No organisation should ever aim to deploy AI before having a concrete idea of what they are looking to get out of it. AI is not a magic button you can push to generate instant prizes.

“AI adoption and digital transformation requires an effective, collaborative team effort.”

How much does culture change matter in digital transformation - and why?

Digital transformation is not a technology change programme, it’s a people programme. Invest in upskilling and building capability within the organisation to cooperate and collaborate with AI. Remember that AI is an assistant, not a boss.

Culture is about having your people on board and them being on that journey. If your people are not on board with your initiatives then your plans are dead in the water before you start. If you're not a progressive organisation, you're not going to hold onto talent and take your people with you. Your competitors are going to do the things that you failed to do.

How much does domain expertise and knowledge matter in digital transformation?

Don’t expect results if you simply rely on a summer PhD intern to rustle up some quick wins. AI adoption and digital transformation requires an effective, collaborative team effort. Domain experts with deep knowledge of the company and its sector are the first part of the equation. They should have a clear understanding of the use case, and of the problem to be solved.

But to succeed, they will be dependent on scientists, AI engineers, and management. Effective communication is key to success, as the different stakeholders speak a very different language.

What have you learned about how to do digital transformation well?

You have to be willing to give the project what it needs, and you have to believe in what you’re doing. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, how can you expect your team to do the same? How can you truly be successful if you don’t believe you can succeed? Patience, open-mindedness, and agility. These things are key to doing digital transformation well.

Digital transformation programmes can be long - how does that work in a world shaped by shocks such as war or pandemics?

You cannot panic and rush a transformation project. If one is already in process and has the right foundation, sure, it might be possible to push things along with a bit more urgency. But for new projects, don’t skip steps. You still need to take the time to determine what it is that needs doing and what the best course of action is. 

What you can't be doing is constantly shooting from the hip and reacting to everything. But you have to plan for potential future disruption. You need to be coping with the current disruption but also planning for the next level of transformation. You need a constant wider watching brief on economic, political, societal and technological factors.

How should the Board and senior executives be involved?

The leadership team need to be the chief cheerleaders of change. They need to be involved in every step of the process and communicating downwards, because staff at every level are going to be looking up to them throughout this process. There needs to be clear communication about what the goals are, what the concerns are, and the roles everyone in the organisation will play. If your people see you’re excited and truly believe in what you’re pushing, they are more likely to trust you and buy in. 

How do you see AI driving competitive advantage in the next few years?

Look out for the next layer of automation. For everything we do, there will be tools that enable us to do it in a way that is so much better, much quicker and less mundane. It will take away the dirty, dull and dangerous. In the next few years we'll see more examples of AI and digital tools deployed at scale across all types of organisations. Those that don't jump on board will get left behind. They will be the Kodaks and the Blockbusters that just fall by the wayside.