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Leadership / Digital Transformation

What tech leaders must consider before launching an AI initiative

Tech Monitor’s Technology Leaders Agenda 2021 suggests AI and automation are now realising maturity, but, as Hexaware’s Siddharth Dhar explains, businesses must lay the proper groundwork before embarking on such projects.

AI and automation for a long time felt like the pot of gold at the end of the technological rainbow: tantalisingly close, but often just out of reach. Though their theoretical potential has been clear for years, data platforms and integration were often not robust enough for the majority of enterprises to actually implement a large scale AI initiative in practice.

AI initiative

Hexaware’s Siddharth Dhar explains why businesses must lay the proper groundwork before embarking on ambitious AI and automation projects. (Photo by Olemedia/Getty Images)

Yet with AI and automation technologies finally reaching enterprise maturity – combined with the mind-focusing power of the pandemic – enterprises seem to be changing tack. At any rate, that’s one of the conclusions of the Technology Leaders Agenda 2021, a survey of 611 global technology leaders conducted by Tech Monitor.  

Sixty-one per cent of respondents consider an AI or automation initiative to be a main focus within their businesses this year – something Siddharth Dhar says is partly down to recent upheavals. “Post-pandemic, we’ve clearly seen a shift in attitudes,” says the executive vice president and global head of infrastructure management services at agenda partner Hexaware.  

With modern application delivery frameworks like agile increasingly central to enterprise success, many businesses are rushing to release what Dhar calls “new features, new functionalities” at speed. To do so successfully means moving to the cloud – but what about for organisations that plan on balancing cloud migration with legacy infrastructure?  

 “The only way you can square that equation is by using extreme automation,” Dhar explains. “You make your legacy technology behave as if it were modern by automating the underlying processes. That’s where we see a lot of attitudes changing. People are seeing the potential.”

Innovation across enterprise

Sharpening efficiency while cutting costs, and exploiting data to gather actionable insights, there’s little wonder such shifts are welcome, but harnessing the power of an automation or AI initiative is far from straightforward. On the contrary, as Dhar is keen to stress, maximising the benefits of new technology requires robust data management and architecture.

“The ability of a digitised organisation today to monetise their data – to be more competitive, to understand their customers’ buying patterns and influence them – is just tremendous,” he explains. “But it means that you have to understand that data, you have to consume it in the right way.”

This is reflected by the Technology Leaders Agenda 2021, which found that 68% of tech leaders ranked data integration and infrastructure initiatives as their main technological priority.

Yet with some company executives approaching these emerging possibilities without the proper technical grounding, Dhar warns that there’s a risk enterprises will simply be swept up in wanting to be part of the latest craze without taking requisite time to consider exactly what they’re looking to achieve.

“An organisation's strategy has to be holistic towards the ultimate goal,” he says. “Digital transformation is not an end in itself. Automation is not an end in itself. You can't just focus on one end of the equation.”  

This is why, Dhar says, enterprises often have themselves to blame when the practice of new technology doesn’t live up to the theory. All too often, it is a failure to recognise tech’s key role in delivering and enhancing overall business strategy. As he puts it: “Until five years ago, most IT functions have behaved like a back-end shop. They haven't really focused on how they could be instrumental in revenue generation – an issue compounded by C-suite attitudes to the tech function. Those sorts of attitudes take time to change, but they are changing.”

Connecting the dots

In order to fully leverage the power of AI, enterprises are increasingly hunting for external support and expertise. A key mantra of Hexaware’s work with clients has long been to “automate everything”. The essential aim, says Dhar, is to “enhance customer experience” across the longer term. And, whatever the challenges, he adds, it seems clear that the last 18 months have made a big difference in making tech leaders think more strategically.  

“Three years ago, when we created this thought process, it wasn't easy for our customers to connect the dots between the three pillars of cloud, automation and customer experience,” he says. “I think it’s now a lot easier for them to see how those strands come together than it ever was before.  

Maturing attitudes are changing what enterprises expect from external partners, but also bringing real focus around what an automation and AI initiative can do.  “It comes down to clarity of thought,” says Dhar. “AI and automation only form one part of a wider jigsaw puzzle.” Being able to see what these capabilities contribute to the overall picture is what brings real transformational power.

Download your copy of the Technology Leaders Agenda