The Quietest Giant — COOs Need to Ready Themselves for AI

A 3 Step Guide to Readying Yourself For AI in Your Company.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing unique points of view in a series dedicated to the evolving landscape of running and scaling a company in a technology-first world.

If you know anything about Blackbelt, you know that we are bringing AI to our clients, so we must fiercely support and advocate AI and thus bring it into our home. Simply put, we need to eat our own dog food!

I sit here today with a very transactional and operational dilemma in front of me. I evolved my role from leading BD for our company to now sitting as the COO. We’re a lean organization and intend to stay this way, and while we all have the experience and passion to touch many facets of the business, my role is to help shepherd us as a cohesive, yet continually agile, organization for the future.

I know we need a vision and a plan because the future of work is about to radically shift for our company, our clients and the entire world.

It’s about embracing AI for the COO. As Jeff Bezos said in his letter to Amazon shareholders in April 2017, “Though less visible, much of the impact of machine learning will be of this type — quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.”

But seriously, what does that mean in practical application. Will my path to talent actually be about key investments in technology? In an effort to manage costs will I utilize more cloud-based services that cut out the cost of overhead? Yes, yes… and yes to any other questions about what machine learning technology could potentially do for your company.

We have all begun to hear the murmurs of job destruction due to robots, AI driven platforms that autonomously operate and evolve to take over rote tasks. Yet in the future state they may drive the conversation about industry strategy and shine light on blue ocean for new transformative ideas. Where do humans sit in all of this? And what does Blackbelt need to look like to operate in this world.

First, let’s dive into what AI means to the COO of a services company.

A services company is about managing people, delivering better than expectation for clients and doing it in a time efficient manner.

Part 1: AI and People Management: We can all easily see the role of AI in helping to manage resourcing and time: it’s a math equation of how to deploy people. There are a handful of AI driven platforms arising to solve this question and bring you a solution. But, it’s not just about managing time, AI is going to be able to help you bring better talent to the table at the moment when you need it most. Jon Bischke, CEO of Entelo, says “Not only will they know for certain which sources lead to new hires, they’ll also be able to identify and surface ideal talent profiles, and automatically seek out both active and passive job seekers who fit the mold. They will have a clearer picture of the talent population that exists and will be able to focus their efforts on the candidates who are the most receptive to new opportunities.”

Further, we can all agree that here is a growing sift towards contingent contract work. Many people don’t want to work the 9–5 and spend hours commuting. They want to pursue work that fulfills passions and personal interests. As the labor markets tighten, we have to be able to provide these opportunities if we want to have the privilege to work with great minds.

Part 2: AI and Forecasting: There is learning that can take place throughout your sales cycle. There is learning that should take place throughout your ongoing client engagements. Imagine, you start scanning sales calls or your employee emails because you want to analyze conversations with clients and future clients to determine when opportunities are arising, if relationships are going south and if there are potential future projects to be pitched before you clients even know they need it. AI can do this. In fact, Publicis is putting some big dollars on this proposition with their AI assistant Marcel. They are committing $25mm over 3 years to build an AI and machine learning powered personal assistant, which will connect the group’s 80,000 employees across 200 disciplines in 130 countries.

But what does Marcel actually mean? It means is resource redundancy is lessened, it ensures proper utilization, it’s minding client information and outside data sources to anticipate client need…. its a powerful proposition and answers a bit of both the “AI and People Management” opportunity and the “AI and Forecasting” opportunity.

Part 3: AI and Offering: So, that leaves us with simply putting smarter work out into the world that is delivering above client expectation! That is the holy grail of being a best in class services business and how you win repeat business and new business. At Blackbelt, we know we can do this. We have actually begun building our own AI platform that is going to bring better answers to the questions that marketers ask. We are launching the MVP this fall via our joint venture with End Cue. We have come together to form Nucleal, an independent AI platform for marketers. Look out for it.

So, how do you ready yourself?

I think it’s simple. Do not fear technology. And as anyone knows when growing a company that is hoping for long term success, build a strong brand and vision for who you aim to be and let that drive your decisions — the way you operate, your investments, the way you hire and even being selective about the clients you work with. Layer in AI, you can do all of these things smarter.

For now, I’ve got my vision clear and a roadmap in place. Now we need to start building and embracing. See what works. See what fails. And move forward!