Will We Need A Chief Innovation Officer If We Have AI?

AI is predicted to replace many jobs, but is CINO included?


AI is gaining momentum, with both governments and manufacturers intensely preparing for the arrival of Industry 4.0, which is predicted to affect multiple industries and the global job market. Researchers from Oxford University forecasted that 45% of US jobs will be automated within the next 20 years, but can a Chief Innovation Officer role be included on the list?

In some cases, there is a belief that smart factories, digitization, a shift towards cloud computing, and other pillars of Industry 4.0 are only set to affect jobs which perform repetitive tasks, leaving the intellectual and creative workforce safe from AI, but that may not be the case.

Machine learning technology is capable of completing a wide range of analytical and logical tasks, however, as assumptions made by machines are becoming more accurate with time, these start to acquire new forms of thinking which also allows for better outcomes, even if there are not vast amounts of data available. For example, Tuomas Sandholm and Noam Brown from Carnegie Melon University developed an AI-powered poker player - Libratus - that managed to beat four world champion human players. The significance of the breakthrough is arguably more impressive than the first time a computer beat a chess player because aside from analyzing probability and strategic patterns, technology is now capable of bluffing and understanding whether the rival is misinforming it - and this can be applicable in a wide range of industries.

Chief Innovation Officers are mainly responsible for smooth execution of innovation strategies and product development, in the near future, AI may 'ease' some of these duties. In his interview with Forbes, Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu, Co-Founder of Coursera, and an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University said that: 'A lot of the art and skill of figuring out where to insert AI is to recognize the business opportunities, where you have a complex system but a lot of these one-second tasks that you might be able to string together automatically.'

So, to what degree can the role of the Chief Innovation Officer be automated?

Research and analysis of new product ideas

This starts with market analysis, where joining forces with a team, a CINO would analyze data on what's new in the market and what kind of opportunities can be extracted based on the market data. This includes a search for methods, approaches, and potential collaborations through open innovation.

With technology, market analysis can be performed faster through BI tools, and it's likely that in the future, the process wouldn't require manual supervision at all, but would be usable in the form of voice commands. As for open innovation, the concept is already operated in the digital space. This would allow a system to avoid manually searching and selecting the right solution submissions it could simply look for specific parameters within submissions and flag them up quickly.

Searching for new market opportunities

The number of products and services that create new markets and keep incumbents on their toes continues to increase. Sometimes, the initiatives introduced by Chief Innovation Officers are capable of keeping problems at bay in the short-term, but even with best practices, new threats are often overlooked. AI's analytical thinking can significantly ease the processing of new trends and products releases, allowing for better strategic planning, where an incumbent would roughly know what they are trying to protect themselves from.

Resource allocation

Building a portfolio, allocating budget and assigning stage-gates can be time-consuming. It's no secret that in the current market conditions, timing is vital, so if there is a chance of not meeting a deadline with a product release, a company risks losing some competitive advantage and a competitor may deliver the same product faster. Assigning smart systems to run tasks like budget allocation and stage-gate controls (which may be complex but arguably within the realms of possibility), CINOs would only be required to link and coordinate automated stages and check on the pre-market prototype.

However, it shouldn't be assumed that CINOs will become obsolete. One of the most important of their duties is to inspire creative thinking and act as a facilitator of teams' aspirations, something that AI hasn't cracked yet and is unlikely to be able to do given the necessity for human interaction. The Chief Innovation Officer is also a communicator who delivers critical product information across other business units and demonstrates that processes are aligned with the main business strategy.

So, as long as robots don't get promoted and take a seat in the C-suite, CINOs are likely to retain their roles, or what will be left of them.


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