Almost Timely News, October 29, 2023: Key Roles in Your Generative AI Pilot Team

Almost Timely News: Key Roles in Your Generative AI Pilot Team (2023-10-29) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: Key Roles in Your Generative AI Pilot Team (2023-10-29)

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What’s On My Mind: Key Roles in Your Generative AI Pilot Team

Today, let’s talk about who should be on your AI pilot team. Well, first, let’s talk about what an AI pilot team is. Many, many organizations right now have individual people trying out generative AI for all kinds of purposes, from drafting emails to content creation to coding. Very few of those uses are officially sanctioned, supervised, or audited, which can lead to some pretty big problems down the road – problems like data leakage.

This is really the heart of the matter: generative AI is a transformative technology. Like electricity or the Internet itself, generative AI changes everything it touches. And like electricity and the Internet, it can be used for great good or great harm. Clamping down on the use of generative AI with a bury-your-head policy and point of view handicaps your organization. More progressive, more risk-taking competitors will adopt generative AI while you hide from it and they’ll eat your lunch. They’ll be faster, cheaper, and better than you. That’s not a winning formula for success.

But a free-for-all, no-holds-barred approach isn’t a winning formula either. People will use it for tasks they shouldn’t – either because the task itself isn’t well suited for AI, or there’s substantial risk, like working with protected data in unprotected systems. For example, someone who uploads personally-identifying information into a system like ChatGPT is basically handing protected information to an unsanctioned third party. That’s not the right approach either.

The best choice is that centered approach – neither too risk averse, nor too reckless. But how do we get there? That’s the role of an AI pilot team. What is an AI pilot team? It’s a group of people selected to help build out use cases for generative AI, do small-scale pilot projects to validate the use cases, and help create standard operating procedures that enable AI without compromising safety or harming innovation.

To achieve this goal, an AI pilot team needs a very specific set of skills, skills that help achieve the overall goal of enabling AI in your organization. The right people with the right roles will quickly dispel misconceptions and roll out practical use cases for your organization to adopt generative AI.

What are these roles? In no particular order, you will need five major roles:

  • Data expert
  • Business expert
  • Subject matter expert
  • Technical expert
  • Supervisory expert

Let’s step through what each of these roles do on an AI pilot team.

The Data Expert

The data expert’s role is very straightforward: to know what data is available within your organization, where it lives, who has access to it, how protected the data is, and how, if at all, that data can be surfaced for use with generative AI.

In the pilot team, the data expert is essential for knowing what data you’re allowed to work with and help develop use cases for generative AI with that data. This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone with a formal database or data engineering background, either – it just needs to be someone who knows where the data is and what you’re allowed to do with it.

The Business Expert

Someone on the pilot team has to ask the question that my partner and CEO Katie Robbert asks me all the time, which is, “So what?” What’s the purpose of any given use case? What does it do for the business, for your department, for the goals you’ve set out to achieve.

Generative AI is the shiny object of the moment and everyone’s still trying to figure out what it is and isn’t good at, but someone has to ask the So what? question on a regular and frequent basis so that the pilot projects make sense. Eventually, when you present your results to your stakeholders, they’ll ask the same question, so it’s easiest if you start with that question in mind.

The Subject Matter Expert

In many companies, the subject matter expert is not the business expert. How the company makes money is different from how the company does what it does. The lead food scientist is not the CFO or the COO, even though both are important. The subject matter expert’s role on the AI pilot team is to bring deep knowledge about the company and its core competencies, mapping what’s known about existing processes to generative AI capabilities.

For example, suppose you work at a bakery. The subject matter expert would be the head baker and would be able to help you understand how the existing recipes were developed. You’d use that knowledge to work with generative AI, maybe to create some new recipes, and then your subject matter expert would inspect the outputs and say yes, that’s feasible or no, that recipe won’t work because a large language model somehow assumed baking powder and baking soda are the same thing.

The Technical Expert

The technical expert’s role in an AI pilot project is clear: their job is to help manage the implementation and usage of generative AI. They provide knowledge about what AI can and cannot do, help map AI to current processes, and do the deployments of generative AI within pilot projects.

Here’s where we’re going to get a bit challenging. The technical expert, by definition, is the person or persons in your organization who have the most experience with generative AI specifically. Not a general technical expert necessarily, not an IT person, but the person who has the most hands on knowledge of generative AI.

That might very well be the most junior person on your team, or the janitor for all you know. But whoever it is, they need to be on the pilot team because they’ll be the best at helping bring use cases to life.

The Supervisor/Scientific Expert

It’s fine to tinker around with generative AI, to test out different things and see how things go. However, once you start building out an actual AI practice, winging it and tinkering are unsustainable strategies. It’s what companies did most wrong with the advent of smartphones in the workplace. Companies ignored them or tried to ban them and employees kept bringing them.

If we want to avoid the same mistake this time around, we need a scientifically-minded expert on our team, someone who can set up the testing and measurement of our pilot use cases, show meaningful and mathematically sound improvements, and critically ask the one question that is almost never asked enough in AI:

What could go wrong?

The scientifically minded expert knows to ask that question, knows to plan for all manner of scenarios going sideways, and knows to anticipate problems in advance when designing experiments and test cases.

Rolling Out the Roles

You might be saying to yourself right now, we don’t have nearly enough people to build out a team of five just for piloting AI. Or you might be in the opposite boat and saying a team of five isn’t nearly large enough to encapsulate all the different departments and roles and use cases in your mammoth organization. That’s why I call these roles instead of jobs. One person can play multiple roles in smaller organizations, and many people can participate in just one role in larger organizations.

For example, at my company, I play the role of the data expert and the technical expert. Sometimes I play the role of subject matter expert, sometimes not. Katie often plays the role of the scientific expert and the business expert. What matters is that someone’s fulfilling all five of the roles in some capacity so we don’t have a dangerous blind spot.

At a large enterprise, I could see each of these roles being part of a pilot team in every department. HR might have its own pilot team with one or more people in each role. Finance would have its own pilot team. Sales would have its own pilot team. Again, as with the small company, the key is to ensure you have all five roles covered in some capacity.

Your AI pilot team, properly staffed, will be the vanguard, the scouts ahead of the army who spot the obstacles and clear the path for everyone else. In a different issue, we’ll talk about the soft skills you need for each of the people on the pilot team, because there are some critical personality traits you do and don’t want on your AI pilot team. For now, start thinking about who your AI pilot team might want to have on it, and what roles they’ll play.

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