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PHOTO: Mark Fletcher-Brown

To make sure investments in artificial intelligence (AI) pay off, it’s important to pair AI deployments with organizational change management programs. As enterprises increasingly adopt AI technology, managing the transformation should be top of mind.

According to Gartner research, AI deployments have tripled in the past year and 37% of organizations surveyed said they have implemented AI in some form. Moreover, the number of organizations implementing AI grew 270% in just four years. Usage numbers like those, paired with another Gartner finding that organizations are planning to increase IT budgets by 2.9% in 2019, signal that leadership teams are serious about committing resources to AI-powered solutions.

AI technology brings the promise of productivity, engagement and next-level efficiency. But as with any sort of workflow change, stakeholders will need to have a complete understanding of the changes in order to continue being productive. 

Continued success requires strong organizational change management and communication initiatives in place before, during and after AI implementations.

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Education Is the Key to Adoption

Organizations that experience the smoothest transitions start education early and tailor it to multiple stakeholder groups before anything is in place. Provide stakeholders with baseline knowledge of the value that AI technology will offer to ensure that they have clear expectations when it comes to working with the technology. It’s important that people throughout the organization understand the benefits of adopting AI. That includes everyone from administrative personnel to key business stakeholders, not just by those who will work closely with the new systems.

The end goal of such educational initiatives is to dispel misconceptions about AI. For those unfamiliar with how AI functions in the workplace, the futuristic technology and the adjectives surrounding it may sound intimidating. While words like advancement, innovative and revolutionary have positive connotations for some people, the benefits of AI may not be as intuitive or apparent to other members of the workforce.

Maximizing the value of AI means using the technology to augment what the human workforce does. Therefore, education should center around the fact that the technology will enhance employees’ daily lives, making it easier to handle routine tasks so they can focus on more valuable pursuits. When they communicate with employees, leaders must focus on explaining why the change is being made instead of emphasizing the features of the technology.

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Create a Road Map for Deployments

Creating a clear AI adoption plan can help avoid bumps along the way. With a road map for the project, employees can get accustomed to each change as it happens, allowing for a step-by-step adoption rather than an all-at-once approach. It’s a good idea to plan a slower rollout in which the more tech-savvy stakeholders try the technology first and become its strongest champions. Those early adopters could encourage people in other departments to accept the technology with open minds and a positive outlook. For example, if the IT team is enthusiastic about an AI-powered virtual assistant, executives in the C suite might be more receptive to the idea of allowing the organization to pilot the product.

Gathering feedback from people involved in live testing initiatives gives leaders visibility into how the rest of the employees might react. Gradual adaptation turns an AI rollout into a learning process, rather than a radical and immediate change.

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Training and Education Are Ongoing Endeavors

Change management doesn’t stop once a new technology is deployed. Confidence in a new technology will grow when the stakeholders involved not only know how to use it, but also find it valuable in completing their daily tasks. An approach in which education and planning are paired with training is the best way to support an enterprisewide change.

If a company pours a lot of time, money and other resources into an AI deployment but then doesn’t offer proper training on the new system, it won’t see much of a return on its investments and the promises of improvements in efficiency and productivity will be unfulfilled. For example, if a company offers members of its finance team training on a new AI-powered payroll system but neglects to teach rank-and-file employees how to use it, employees might become confused as payroll concerns arise. Where are the W-2 forms? When do we receive our paychecks? When this happens, employees may turn to the IT department and overload the help desk with questions.

It is critical then, for leaders to spend time creating an ongoing training plan as part of the post-rollout road map. Concrete training goals will help stakeholders grow comfortable with the technology on a step-by-step basis and minimize any productivity losses.

The most effective way to offer training will vary from organization to organization and user to user. Successful approaches can range from offering one-on-one sessions and giving employees workbooks to holding group seminars and webinars. While PWC reports that 60% of enterprises are already incorporating learning initiatives into their AI transformation programs, continuous training should ideally be a part of each and every program.

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Stay Competitive With AI

AI-powered products can and will continue to provide a significant competitive business advantage for enterprises. Investing in AI-powered technology like virtual assistants, automated data processing tools and even call transcription software can put a company steps ahead of the competition.

For companies to fully realize the productivity and efficiency gains that AI promises, all users and stakeholders need to be on board with the changes. If leaders implement effective organizational change management practices, they will see the benefits of AI throughout the entire enterprise with little resistance and great reward.