AI Strategy – Process and Systems Maturity

This article is the second in a series about how boards and leadership teams should think about AI strategy with a sober eye to the reality that while everything seems to be changing, some foundational things remain the same.*

AI: What is new and what has always mattered.

This shiny object – AI – will be disrupting your industry, your company, and even each of you for a long time into the future. However, that fact should ensure you take the time now – in this moment of significant disruption – to double-click on some foundational elements of the business as a powerful place to start your journey to discovering what is possible.

What is the AI Strategy?

Boards turn to their leadership teams and increasingly ask, “What is our AI strategy?” The media hype cycle around AI has undoubtedly introduced a mix of panic, FOMO (Fear of missing out), and enthusiasm about what it could mean for their companies. 

Now more than ever, the time has come to take a deep and reflective look into your business strategy with humility and curiosity. 

The first article in this series addressed talent and culture’s strategic and vital influence on success.  Now, we will explore why it is a great time to also take a deep and reflective look at your business workflow processes and systems with humility and curiosity.

Questions in the realm of processes and systems to consider:

  • What is the current state of your processes and systems?
  • How do your processes share data effectively for optimal context and value?
  • How interconnected are they across functions?
  • How do your teams evaluate processes with a lens that focuses on the customers’ perspectives? (I call this building customer empathy in your business)
  • Do they yield point metrics or insights into what is and is not working?
  • Do you have enough “systems thinkers” on the team—the talent who understands how to decompose a process and optimize it for efficiency, effectiveness, and, most importantly, the desired outcome?

Why Process Discipoine Matters – To Go Fast!

Innovative leaders have grasped that you cannot “go fast” without optimizing the elements of your process with a clear view of the strategic outcomes you seek. Furthermore, consistency in executing those processes is a significant factor in building a successful brand that delivers on its promise to customers. Some hide behind the idea that as “entrepreneurs,” processes are only for big companies and slow them down. Those folks often confuse process discipline with “bureaucracy” – and they are just not the same.

It is powerful to combine business workflow process discipline (i.e., consistency) with an objective, data-driven approach to evaluating what is working and what is not, continuous learning, and humility to adapt and grow. 

If you are to identify ways to leverage generative AI for business success, you would be well served to start by being intentional about understanding your current systems and processes.

Companies looking to score early wins with gen AI should move quickly. But those hoping that gen AI offers a shortcut past the tough—and necessary—organizational surgery are likely to meet with disappointing results. 

What is Digital Transformation?, McKinsey

Companies looking to score early wins with gen AI should move quickly. But those hoping that gen AI offers a shortcut past the tough—and necessary—organizational surgery are likely to meet with disappointing results. 

What is Digital Transformation?, McKinsey

Why Process Discipline Matters – Process Data Insights

It is logical. If everyone (over time) begins to leverage generative AI from public data sources, the outcomes will lack innovation and differentiation. While it may allow organizations to automate repetitive human actions—yielding short-term efficiency—this approach will fail to create competitive separation and sustainable success.

What makes your business unique is the collective of humans and insights that founders and leaders have garnered to get to where they are today. Have you captured and do you continue to capture these unique insights in the form of data, or are you missing the opportunity to capture context and insights every day? 

I have seen incredibly talented leaders, often quite technically savvy founders, ignore the importance of capturing data insights in ways that are unique (and thus valuable) to their company’s experience. It starts with the basics: How do insights garnered by one function get captured and leveraged for others?

Here are just a few examples of opportunities to dig into:

  • Do you capture the features and functions that are most used in complex B2B software solutions and make that data available to sales, CX, and product teams?
  • Do you cross-reference data in support calls where customers are struggling to leverage your technology to inform product improvements or training opportunities?
  • How are insights from sales calls captured and made available to product and strategy teams?
  • How do you glean user and decision-maker characteristics from customers’ usage patterns to inform marketing ICPs?
  • What is the source of truth for your data elements, and how do you keep all systems of record updated?

There are nuggets of opportunity throughout the questions above, and it is possible that generative AI could be a means to mine those insights more effectively and, most importantly, act on them.

Never Too Late to Get Started – Start With Customer Perspective

Functional expertise within organizational processes is essential. However, to change the game and think differently about your business in the context of what generative AI may offer or how it may disrupt your company and industry, a broad cross-functional perspective is more insightful. Suppose process mapping is something you’ve engaged less deeply in historically. In that case, I’ve observed that one of the fastest ways to get clarity on your current state is to perform a current state process/system assessment by taking the customer’s perspective. Evaluate your processes with an “outside-in” perspective. 

Customer journey mapping, if done well, married with the elements of your processes (irrespective of functional silos) that support that journey, yields the most honest and valuable evaluations of your current processes and systems. This approach will help you identify gaps and opportunities where generative AI can play a role.

Defining Your Business Strategy to Leverage AI

The time is now, even if you’ve gone deep on your processes and systems already as foundational to building your new business or tranforming an existing one.  Don’t lose those insights when you go in search of how to infuse the art of the possible with generative AI into your adaptive strategy.

If you’ve not been so focused in the past, there has never been a better time to go deep on mapping and understanding your current state.

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