Matthew Keegan
Jun 11, 2024

What do chief AI officers do and does adland need them?

The position is the hot new C-suite job that can pay handsomely, but is it more than just a fancy title? We speak to experts across the region.

What do chief AI officers do and does adland need them?

MasterCard, Deloitte, Dell Technologies, Intel Corporation, IBM, and even NASA. These are just a handful of companies that have recently appointed a chief AI officer. 

While the World Economic Forum has predicted that 85 million jobs across the globe could be replaced by AI by 2025, it’s also expected to create some 97 million new roles.

Clearly, the chief AI officer (CAIO) is emerging as the most sought after among these new roles, and is the latest in a long line of positions that businesses have added to the C-suite over the years. But is it necessary?

"Having a dedicated person focusing on AI has been crucial to ensuring our team is primed to pivot and adapt as new AI-enabled tools are released," says Chris Dodds, co-founder at Icon Agency. 

Dodds says his agency appointed an AI implementation manager who takes on many of the responsibilities you'd expect from a chief AI officer. 

"Their role involves researching new AI tools, testing them with our teams, and managing the implementation process," says Dodds. "They also run a help desk to assist our staff with AI-related issues."

78% of marketing agencies are already using AI for content creation, and as many continue to ramp up their use of the technology. This necessitates the need for someone to oversee it all. However, as AI is increasingly being adopted across all parts of the value chain, some argue that appointing just a single chief AI officer isn't enough. 

"The function and role of a chief AI officer needs to be played by all of the C-suite," says Prakash Kamdar, CEO, clients & solutions, Southeast Asia & CEO, Singapore, Dentsu. "Meaningful and scaled AI adoption is not achieved by one person holding such a mantle, but rather through a mindset and a behavioural shift based on shared responsibility."

It's that 'shared responsibility', rather than appointing a single chef AI officer, that IPG-owned digital agency RGA has opted for. 

"Instead of appointing a single chief AI officer, we’ve opted for a collaborative approach, forming committees and partnerships to gain a diverse perspective on AI opportunities across tech, operations, creative, production, and data," says Michael Titshall, CEO of APAC, R/\GA. 

More than a fancy title?

While chief AI officer might be the hot new job, with compensation packages averaging above US$1 million according to a survey from executive-search and leadership advisory firm Heidrick and Struggles, what does the job actually entail? And does every company need one?

Daniel Hulme, global chief AI officer for WPP, told CNBC in a recent interview that “there is a history of getting excited about new technologies like generative AI and essentially wrongly investing in applying those to your business." He says his role entails helping brands and clients strategise to ensure that they are using these technologies to add value to their business.

Strategy seems to be the operative word. A competitive advantage is increasingly being built on the strategic adoption of AI, and the effective application of AI depends heavily on leadership in the field. A chief AI officer or dedicated AI taskforce will likely become important as AI develops and becomes more integrated into numerous business elements, especially for larger agencies and brands.

"The rapid advancements in AI necessitates a dedicated executive to oversee AI strategy, ensure responsible governance, and guide ethical integration into business processes," says Adam Krass, chief digital, data and technology officer, UM Australia. "This foresight in AI leadership will be instrumental in harnessing its full potential while navigating the complexities it brings."

Jessica White, CEO at Kinesso Australia, believes that while AI will require some concentrated attention at first, we will get to a point where not understanding AI will be like not knowing how to use a computer. 

"It's a basic requirement, not a fancy title, and thereafter, I believe it will be a function within the COO role or similar," says White. "Like water, it will leak into everything we do at every level. Leadership will need to not just be AI literate but have a level of mastery to seize the moment and lead change—quickly."

Does every brand or agency need one?

As many companies scramble to appoint AI officers, the role may feel like a luxury for smaller SMEs. But in the case of smaller companies who don't have the means to appoint one, finding an existing member of staff who is passionate about technology and combining their role could be the next best option. 

"Not every agency or brand will require a chief AI officer. However, I believe that those that don’t embrace AI will find it increasingly difficult to compete," says Daniel Willis, chairman and CEO of Claxon. "The value of AI in enhancing operational efficiency and delivering superior business outcomes is undeniable. While formal AI-centric roles may become more common in the future, they’ll initially be the hallmark of forward-thinking, innovative companies."

While remaining innovative and ahead of the curve is important, so too is safeguarding clients and protecting one's own data and work. The role of a chief AI officer is therefore equally about safety and considering the ethical impacts of AI's use.

Official regulation of AI has been slow in most countries with ongoing disagreement over what is to be policed, how and by whom, leaving many companies to devise their own internal AI policy and guardrails in the meantime. The European Parliament adopted the Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act) back in March. It is considered to be the world's first comprehensive horizontal legal framework for AI. But aside from the EU, there's not much else out there. 

"To safeguard both our clients’ and our own data and work, we’ve established a generative AI Policy and governance framework, complete with approved tools and licenses, says Titshall. "Our main focus is to minimise risks for both RGA and our clients, ensuring the protection of client confidential information, avoiding any infringement of third-party intellectual property rights, and maintaining transparency with clients regarding the use of these tools on their behalf."

RGA is also constantly educating its people about the ethical impacts.

"One area I feel strongly about is not using AI-generated imagery for humans," adds Titshall. "There is a huge risk of creating unrealistic expectations on people that can have significant societal and mental health consequences." 

But beyond safeguarding, for many agencies the prime role of an AI officer is to oversee strategic goals that are mostly tied to enhancing efficiency and effectiveness.

Tang Yu, rotating CEO of NetDragon, talks with an employee.

"AI currently helps us to democratise access to high-quality creative solutions, enabling smaller clients to achieve results that were once exclusive to large-budget brands," says Willis. "On the media and data front, AI allows us to deliver more precise and impactful outcomes. Internally, AI has been transformative, streamlining our operations and allowing us to allocate more resources toward achieving client success."

Looking ahead, Dentsu’s Kamdar says that while much of the conversation and tools around AI have largely centred around efficiency and effectiveness, conversations and solutions need to address the broader opportunity of “AI for growth” as well.

"This will enable organisations to realise the fullest potential of AI to unlock previously unknown or unchartered growth opportunities as well as reduce resistance to its adoption,” he says.

At this point, resistance to AI's adoption seems futile; it's already a force to be reckoned with. And not content with just the CAIO role, it seems to want to conquer the C-suite entirely. 

According to a survey of over 500 CEOs from the online learning platform EdX and the research firm Workplace Intelligence, 49% of CEOs believe that AI should automate or replace "most" or "all" of their jobs. Some companies have gone a step further and even appointed an AI chatbot in place of their CEO. China-based NetDragon Websoft appointed an AI programme named Tang Yu as its CEO. Polish rum company Dictador appointed an AI-powered humanoid robot named Mika as its CEO, and Mark Alamares, founder of California-based interactive live media startup Mobeon, put his trust in AI in March last year when he stepped down as CEO and became chief operating officer, appointing the AI-powered chatbot, Chinggis Tron, as his replacement.

Yet, for now, appointing a chief AI officer seems to be enough of a vote of confidence in the technology and its unstoppable rise. 

"As AI becomes even more impactful, I absolutely see us creating the role of a chief AI officer," says Willis. "It’s already on our organisational roadmap and scheduled for about 12 months’ time."

 

Source:
Campaign Asia

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