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8 tips from best-in-class IT leaders on AI and role changes

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia Raeburn
January 4th, 2024
4 min read
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Navigating the ever-changing technological landscape is a critical challenge for today's IT leaders—but it doesn’t have to be done alone. At The Work Innovation Summit, top IT executives from Slack, Zscaler, and Asana weighed in, discussing strategies for effectively navigating technological advancements, with a particular focus on AI. This roundup of their experiences provides a roadmap for embracing change, driving innovation, and maintaining a competitive edge in today's dynamic digital environment.

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Choosing the right AI tools

For many companies, it’s no longer a question of if they should implement AI, but how. During the Work Innovation Summit, our IT panel weighed in on how they’re navigating the challenges of adopting and implementing AI. The consensus? This is a time for thoughtful experimentation and exploration around AI, not for diving in headfirst (yet). 

1. Establish a data-driven foundation

“[Adopting AI technologies] is a priority of ours—but really looking at it from a lens of a strong foundation of data. That’s going to drive everything related to any value that we get out of AI. [Additionally], having the right policy related to [data protection] and having and identifying the right [AI] use cases.”

"Be thoughtful [with AI]. Don't dive in—tread the waters. Explore in the areas [where] you can drive the repeatable value versus jumping in to solve for narrow, niche cases that [...] just drive incremental value.”

-Praniti Lakhwara, CIO, Zscaler

2. Ease into AI adoption

“There’s so much excitement right now about AI in the C-suite. Every customer is breathlessly talking about AI and boards are pushing companies to [invest in AI]. I think there are going to be a lot of organizations that [...] overinvest in things that turn out to not be valuable, or not be valuable to the extent that people think they will be.”

“Every large company is doing a bunch of small AI pilots. Nobody is deploying AI broadly across the organization yet. [...] It is a time for experimentation, and then will be a time for strong recommendation. Anyone who is forging ahead with enterprise-wide AI deployments right now is a little too eager. It’s not going to pay off.”

-Cal Henderson, Co-Founder and CTO, Slack

3. Go slow to move fast

“Focus on value. [...] Evaluate—who is this benefiting? What is that benefit? [...] There’s going to be a lot of false promises out there. Taking a slow and cautious approach is going to be valuable.”

-Andrew Sopko, Former Head of Corporate Technology, Stripe

A crucial decision in developing a tech stack that includes AI involves choosing between building in-house, buying solutions, or extending existing technologies. As Zscaler CIO Praniti Lakhwara points out, “When we thought about our tech stack within the context of AI, one of the conversations we led with was, ‘What do we want to build? Where do we want to buy? And where do we want to extend?" She notes that privacy and security concerns often drive the decision to build internally, highlighting the vital role of compliance and data protection in these decisions.

Humans and AI, a partnership just beginning

There’s quite a bit of fear around AI adoption—will it replace jobs? Will it complicate employee work? According to these IT leaders, the future for humans and AI working together is bright, and we can’t have one without the other.

4. AI as a helpful resource

“I don’t believe that AI is going to replace all jobs or humans, for that matter. I really believe it’s an augmentation. It’s going to help [humans] do higher-value work.”

-Praniti Lakhwara, CIO, Zscaler

5. A boost to automation

“Work in general is becoming more collaborative and more creative, and a lot of that is driven by technologies like AI. I see generative AI as a continuation of the general trend that’s been happening in the workplace over the last 30 years, which is that we're gradually automating more and more kinds of repetitive work.”

-Cal Henderson, Co-Founder and CTO, Slack

6. Enhancing, not replacing

“We’re moving toward the future of trying to automate as much as possible and take away the human element—where it doesn’t matter—as much as possible. I don’t see [AI] as replacing humans. It is about boosting [human] capability.”

-Andrew Sopko, Former Head of Corporate Technology, Stripe

The role of AI in automating tasks isn't new. As Cal Henderson, CTO and co-founder of Slack, notes, "[AI automation] is a continuation of the spectrum that we’re already on of the automation of more and more rote kinds of work." It's more that our understanding of what constitutes complex work is changing. As AI takes on more tasks, humans can engage in more fulfilling and strategic initiatives.

IT leaders are cross-functional and strategic

Over the last few years, there’s been a shift in the way IT leaders operate. These days, they’re much more likely to be at the forefront of strategic initiatives. As leaders who have a view into many different departments, they have the unique perspective to understand and drive high-impact business outcomes forward.

7. IT leaders view (and can advise on) the big picture

“We have a unique vantage point as IT leaders. [...] We can look across the business—upstream, downstream. While most stakeholders naturally gravitate to solving problems within their departments, what we should be doing as strategic leaders is solving for that whole—and thinking about it from an end-to-end perspective.”

“[We have the] ability to inform not just operational metrics but strategic metrics. [...] IT leaders are well set up to have those conversations and say what works and what doesn’t work. That really puts us in the driver’s seat from a strategic conversation [perspective]."

-Praniti Lakhwara, CIO, Zscaler

8. Leading with a focus on employee experience 

“As IT leaders, we've been busy deploying a lot of solutions and improving business processes and automating. I care a lot about that experience. How do we make sure that the experience for our employees and our teams is cohesive, and something that is delightful? I think that's an opportunity for the CIO organization and for IT leaders to be thinking about quite a bit.”

- Saket Srivastava, CIO, Asana

Growth, but with a healthy dash of control

At The Work Innovation Summit, leaders across roles displayed an abundance of optimism. They’re thoughtful, encouraging, and excited about how the workplace and technology is evolving. But this doesn’t mean they’re driving full speed without consideration of how these changes will impact their organizations. As Lakhwara said, “Something that’s been a high priority for most CIOs is to [drive] thoughtful, meaningful growth—but not growth at all costs.” As we all continue to adapt, we can look to IT leaders for insightful ideas and approaches to scaling a business effectively and for the long-term.

Watch The Work Innovation Summit

Dive into the new era of work with exclusive video content from The Work Innovation Summit, Asana’s biggest event of the year.

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