Interview Series with Innovation Leaders
As a six-time CEO, fellow Forbes council member Terence Mills knows profitable enterprises are built by employing effective technological and digital strategies. He also understands the role human capital plays in making any technology or digital strategy a success. Today, Terence is the CEO of AI.io, Terence and his team help companies in the healthcare, entertainment and travel industries unlock the potential of Artificial Intelligence. At the upcoming 2020 Product Innovation Summit, he will discuss “The Future of Work”, sharing his thoughts on what the future of work might hold, and how it applies to every member of the audience as he walks them through a real healthcare industry example from vision to conceptualization.
Prior to the holidays, Terence and I took a few minutes to talk about AI, the future of work and the importance of human capital.
Teresa: How would you define innovation and where does AI fit into that?
Terence: We are focused on three industry verticals – healthcare, entertainment and travel. AI, in my view is focused on solving business problems. Without business problems, there is no AI. I think that AI has had a very slow adoption rate at the enterprise level. The reason is because AI needs to be explainable and accountable. Here is an example I often use, because it is very real for people. If you tell your boss that you want the company to buy a competitor for $50 million, your boss is going to ask you all kinds of questions about how you came to that decision, what the numbers look like, what the management team looks like, and what the business plan will be. Naturally, your boss is holding you accountable for that decision.
Shouldn’t AI be held accountable as well? When it comes to AI, a white box (see https://ai-io.io/ for more on that concept) that is accountable and explains its results becomes imperative in regulated industries. Healthcare is one of those. We believe that healthcare is ripe with opportunities for AI to solve specific business problems, in a very particular way.
Teresa: Can you explain what you mean by The Future of Work?
Terence: The Future of Work is an interesting term. It is not only about technology. Everything that we develop, in terms of AI or blockchain today, touches everybody in an organization. As a developer, you cannot go into a hospital and say to the c-suite that you want to implement a solution that solves your coding problem. You can’t just be a developer delivering a solution. You also need to bring an entire suite of services that are part of the AI that includes training, rehumanizing of time that could include downsizing or upsizing, that may include HR capital in a variety of different ways. If you don’t do these things, you aren’t going to get any customers to adopt on a large scale. I think that is where people get lost. AI changes the way work gets done, but it changes not just from the technology standpoint, but also in terms of employee behavior, employee retention, employee motivation, skillset and more.
That is something that needs to be considered before any company invests in an adoption of this technology.
Teresa: What are the key things you think every company needs to consider about when it comes to AI innovation?
Terence: Hmmm. I view innovation in two ways. I view it as digitization, and then view it as consumerization. Those are two very, very different things. Again, let me bring it back to an example from healthcare, something that everyone knows and understands to some extent. Digitization has to do with the transformation, essentially, of what people view as going from paper to a digital interface. Whereas, consumerization means something different. It means that consumers want to take control of their healthcare. They want all sorts of information that should come as a result of the digitization, such as an interface where they can learn how much a service is going to cost. They would like to understand when they are going to get a bill and how much that bill is going to be. They want their insurance company to adjudicate their claims immediately.
The reason why that is impactful to understand is that no matter how hard you work on the digitization with the organization in moving from a paper world to a paperless world, you have to think about what the customers’ or consumers expectations are in fulfilling their needs. Consumers have gotten very spoiled – by online banking, online shopping. We expect that our relationship with healthcare should be the same way, but it’s not. Understanding what all this means is the starting point. That is where we are now, but we have a long way to go.
Teresa: Are there any other key things you think companies need to think about when it comes to AI or other innovation investments?
Terence: Absolutely. In the digitization part of AI, is understanding of something we talked about a few minutes ago – human capital. How is human capital affected? What kind of retraining needs to take place? How might we need to repurpose people’s time? What might be the impacts of upsizing or downsizing?
We both know that it has been stated, in every way possible, that AI will eliminate jobs. I have to say that I do believe that is true to some extent. I believe some jobs will be eliminated, but I also believe that AI will create twice as many jobs as it eliminates. I see that happening already. Whenever we have delivered new AI solutions for healthcare, we typically see some downsizing in departments and people, but then there is a retraining that takes place. A lot of those people then go in to work with the data and insights that come out of AI, to accomplish other objectives. That is what AI is supposed to do, right? It doesn’t work without the human component. Humans are a requirement.
The numbers that McKenzie and Accenture have put out show that what we are talking about is very much the case, that we are creating jobs based on the insights AI is delivering. Based on the solutions we are implementing today, we know that is in fact the case. It will be interesting to see what might transpire over the next year or two but it’s clear that human capital will have the biggest impact.
I do want to put a caveat on this. We will have to watch, to see what happens. This is a very quick moving train. Things in the landscape can change. This train is moving very fast, so, we have to be prepared for change.
As a management team, within a company that may be considering AI, you have to be comfortable with and willing to embrace experimentation. I am not too sure that a lot of executives have been willing to do that. Experimentation can translate to a lack of organization or a well thought out plan. It is constant change, and this can cause a great deal of fear.
Teresa: What advice would you have for people who might feel paralyzed by that fear, on how to get past it and move forward?
Terence: That an executive who is leading the charge needs to sit back and say I am willing to be wrong on this. If I am right, we are going to be okay, and we might accomplish some great things. If I am wrong, maybe we are going to flush that money. For a lot of companies, that is a big deal. No matter what, they are likely to learn from that experiment. Ultimately, they have to be willing to embrace it. Standing still is no longer an option, because the AI train has left the station. Companies can no longer compete on a level playing field. If one company adopts AI and its competitors don’t, that company will be so far ahead of the others. The others simply won’t be able to catch up. People are feeling that pressure. Ultimately, the cost of standing still will become greater than any risk they face with experimentation.
Teresa: Is there anything else you would like to share about the future of work, or about innovation or AI in general?
Terence: People need to look at this whole human capital side of AI differently. They need to stop believing that robots are going to take over the world and take over their jobs. That just is not the case. Humans and machines need to come together to create these solutions. In fact, the delivery of a proper AI solution can serve as a way to motivate and retain employees. It is also an opportunity to retrain and refocus our human capital. It is a requirement that humans be involved in these solutions in order for them to work. That is the future of work – not just the machines and the technology, but the people.
In most cases, robots are largely dumb interfaces. They don’t think. They do what we tell them to do. Otherwise, they have no way of doing it at all. We are so far from singularity; the term people use to describe how machines operate on the same plane as the human mind.
Adoption has been slow. We need to figure out how the future of work will bring the employees along, and allow the companies to thrive in this new environment. If we can do that, and do it well, we will see the adoption numbers change.