Generative artificial intelligence (AI) has been creating a step change in how we view work and complete our tasks every day, just six months since the launch of ChatGPT. Depending on who you believe, generative AI is either going to help us work more efficiently or leave most of us unemployed. The key task for professionals and their businesses right now is to explore how generative AI can be used to make us more productive.
Five business leaders talk about how they and their organizations are beginning to explore and exploit generative AI — and they suggest five ways that you can get involved, too.
Adam Warne, CIO at retailer River Island, says his organization is already beginning to “play” with GPT — and before those explorations go to the next stage, he wants to make sure the technology is ready for customer-facing services. “I think we are probably in a similar place to lots of people,” he says. “We’re using it to generate content ideas, whether it’s blog posts, marketing posts, or product descriptions. But we’re not putting it into a production environment.”
Like other CIOs, Warne is cautious about using AI. Right now, he says there needs to be a “human, fleshy thing” between whatever generative AI is doing within the business and what the customer sees externally. But he expects to see rapid progress in the level of automation — and he advises all professionals to start exploring generative AI.
Brad Woodward, head of data at women’s lifestyle retailer Hush, says he believes generative AI tools could provide a big boost in productivity for all kinds of professionals, particularly IT developers — and he’s already exploring how. “The way in which we’ll be looking at it, and the way we’ll train other people to use it, is how we can be more efficient at our jobs,” he says.
Woodward gives an example from his own working life, where he recently had to create a prototype of a reporting model. He didn’t want to use live data and, not so long ago, he would have had to produce the sample data for the model by hand. Instead, he just turned to AI. “I just said to ChatGPT, ‘Can you generate me a bunch of database tables and some sample data for this model?’ And it gave me 100 rows. And I then said, ‘Can I have some more?’ And it gave me 1,000 rows,” he says.
Prakash Rao, group head of supply chain projects at retail and hospitality giant Landmark Group, says ChatGPT has huge potential, but it’s crucial to focus on the business case. “Otherwise it’s just jargon,” he says. Rao likens the rise of generative AI to innovations plotted on analyst Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. Every innovation goes through a peak of inflated expectations, where people across the IT industry and other lines of business see the technology as a panacea.
Right now, Rao says he’s anticipating a “trough of disillusionment”, where the hype around AI begins to drop off before reaching a plateau, where widespread acceptance, adoption, and exploitation are commonplace. “The technologies that really have a business application reach a level where all these use cases come out of this technology,” he says.
Robyn Furby, technology adoption manager at insurance firm NFU Mutual, says ChatGPT should be explored cautiously, but she’s enthusiastic about the potential for enterprise-ready adaptations from Microsoft. “We’re looking at it in the context of understanding what it means,” she says. “Naturally, in any financial services organization, we’re going to be cautious. And as a tech enthusiast, I’m interested in supporting people to use it in a safe way. So right now, our focus is around how you can use it in a way that’s appropriate today.”
Furby believes the real power from ChatGPT will arrive when it’s embedded into enterprise-ready AI services, such as Microsoft Copilot, which will use current language models like GPT-4 to offer help for specific tasks, such as answering questions, providing information, and generating content. “I think it will be really interesting to see how it’s used,” she says. Windows Copilot will start rolling out in a preview build for Windows 11 in June.
As generative AI continues to be developed, it is important for professionals and businesses to be aware of the potential benefits and challenges it presents. While some may be cautious about its implementation, others are already exploring its potential uses. It is crucial to focus on the business case and ensure that the technology is used in a safe and appropriate way.