The rise of the Fractional Chief AI Officer

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to revolutionise business, but harnessing its potential requires pervasive and agile strategic leadership

The rise of the Fractional Chief AI Officer 

These requirements are fuelling the emergence of a new management role to support, or complement, the CEO, CIO and CTO – the Chief AI Officer (CAIO).  

A CAIO has a new and evolving skill set as they need to understand rapidly developing AI-related technology and its application, as well as business strategy, process, and organisational structure to be able to effectively align AI with organisational goals at the right pace. However, it many cases it is still difficult to justify the cost of a full-time CAIO, or even hire somebody with the necessary skill sets. There is now a case for appointing a fractional CAIO to ensure that your business does not fall behind over the next few years while minimising costs during a difficult economic period.  

The CAIO imperative 

AI is no longer an emerging technology – it is being woven into the fabric of business. Almost 70% of companies have implemented AI in some form even if they are not aware of its presence in platforms or software.  30% of employees are using chatbots and other AI services to augment their work. The pace of adoption will only accelerate as AI becomes more sophisticated. 

AI expertise cannot remain isolated in siloed technical teams. It must permeate decision-making and strategy at the executive level. A CAIO formulates and orchestrates your organisations AI game plan. They assess the competitive landscape to identify opportunities and develop a roadmap to employ AI for differentiation and advantage. The CAIO also provides oversight to ensure that AI aligns with business ethics and priorities. Importantly, they need to be aware of the pace at which your organisation can implement AI to ensure a return on investment (ROI).  

The dangers of the AI skills gap 

Many companies lack internal candidates possessing the multifaceted expertise to take on the CAIO mantle. Deloitte reports that fewer than 20% of AI adopters feel they have the skills to succeed with the technology. 

Without a CAIO, the AI skills gap is often filled by CTOs or CIOs based on their general tech background rather than AI-specific experience and know-how. CIOs and CTOs are also often focused on existing projects – they already shoulder tremendous responsibility for an organisation’s digital infrastructure and technical roadmap. The drastically different requirements and know-how related to AI competes for their bandwidth. The unique nature of the CAIO role merits dedicated focus from specialised leaders rather than part-time focus. 

The Fractional CAIO alternative 

This is where fractional CAIOs come in. Through this model, a knowledgeable individual or firm that can share the experience of several individuals, is available on part-time basis to provide strategic guidance and oversight tailored to an organisation’s needs. 

A fractional CAIO serves as an on-demand AI expert at the leadership level. They can own the tasks that may overextend business owners, CEOs, CTOs and CIOs struggle to find time for, such as: 

  • Conducting an AI opportunity assessment for the enterprise. 
  • Crafting an AI adoption roadmap aligned to business objectives. 
  • Defining policies and frameworks for ethical AI design. 
  • Identifying partnerships and collaborations to enhance AI capabilities. 
  • Educating the leadership team on AI trends relevant to the company’s industry. 
  • Developing a roadmap for AI implementation. 

Fractional CAIOs offer versatile expertise. Some specialise in the business implications of AI, while others boast technical pedigree. A firm providing a CAIO service can provide a mix of skill sets as and when they are required and can continuously hone skills across clients and industries to develop dynamic, multidisciplinary capabilities. 

The power of external perspective 

In addition to specialist expertise, fractional CAIOs provide an outsider’s objectivity. Their cross-industry experience also fuels novel ideas and best practice sharing not hampered by internal politics, pressures, or short-term priorities. A CAIO understands the latest innovations and their impact on your business and the sector in which you operate, cutting through hype to ensure that technology investment make sense and provides an ROI. 

Finally, once organisation-wide AI fluency is achieved, a fractional CAIO can train successors to take the reigns as a cost-effective knowledge transfer mechanism. 

Is a fractional CAIO right for your enterprise? 

A fractional engagement provides maximum flexibility to access AI leadership. The model aligns cost to usage rather than having underutilised salaried CAIO resources. As AI initiatives scale, fractional support can convert to a full-time strategic hire. Large enterprises understand the need and are already hiring full-time CAIOs, but this material competitive advantage can also be accessed by SMEs through the fractional route. 

The era to build AI-assisted businesses has arrived and the pace of change is rapid. Organisations that fail to adopt AI risk serious competitive disadvantage and, in the longer-run, extinction. Fractional CAIOs offer an on-ramp to the essential strategic guidance required to surf the coming systemic change to business, work and even society as a whole. 

Download Implement AI’s whitepaper, ‘The Case For Appointing A Fractional Chief AI Officer’

Piers Linney
Piers Linney

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