Five AI topics to discuss with your CEO

AI is the biggest topic of conversation these days. At Cisco Live EMEA in Amsterdam in early February, you couldn’t swing an Ethernet cable without hitting someone who was talking about it. Even though AI comes with especially useful applications and some very practical downsides, it’s important to know how to frame the conversation with your CIO or CEO before your company invests in it.

Here are five things to think about as you’re weighing the conversation possibilities:

Determine your AI strategy

Many of you might be asking what your company’s AI strategy is so you can better inform your employees, customers, partners, etc. But in truth, you should ask what existing functions within your company can be improved by AI. The right question involves how AI complements existing functions versus how AI serves as an overlay strategy. For example, “what is our customer service strategy enabled through AI?” or “what is our R&D strategy enabled by AI?”

Consider partnering for AI capabilities

Since 2015 Cisco has been a strategic partner with NVIDIA, the inventor of the GPU that fueled the AI boom. We are combining our expertise in Ethernet networking and our extensive partner ecosystem with NVIDIA’s GPU technology to help customers navigate AI transitions with highly secure Ethernet-based infrastructure. Cisco already has NVIDIA’s GPUs inside our Collaboration portfolio. And now we’re expanding that capability into the data center. Recently Cisco and NVIDIA announced an enterprise AI workload solution—we’re putting NVIDIA’s GPUs into our UCS servers and wrapping them with Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) to make it easier for enterprises to easily deploy and manage their own secure AI infrastructure. Essentially, we’re creating AI superpowered networks.

Know that your employees are already using AI

It’s the wild west out there and employees are naturally curious about trying AI using programs such as ChatGPT. So, companies need to be very intentional about the policies they put in place to protect their IP internally. At Cisco, we tell our employees not to use public AI services. Instead, we have developed our own internal AI capabilities that leverage our ecosystem partners and our own internal developed capabilities in platforms like Webex. Many companies have blocked employees from using AI services on their corporate network all together.

If you can’t say no wholesale, at least give employees an AI alternative. Just like with security, if you make it hard to find a good tool, employees may rely on shadow IT to download the tools they want. Give them an AI alternative that is backed up by your own internal policies and InfoSec protections. Cisco recently launched Motific, our first SaaS product that allows for trustworthy GenAI deployments in organizations. Motific provides a central view across the entire GenAI journey to help central IT and security teams deliver trustworthy GenAI capabilities securely and responsibly across their organization.

Show how AI ties to your core business

Let’s face it—AI is expensive and requires more technology investment. For example, Reuters estimates that a ChatGPT search costs 10x more than a standard Google or Microsoft search. In this economy, companies are protecting their core business right now and not taking on projects outside their IT budgets. If you can show that AI is going to help your core business generate revenue, fuel growth, reduce risk, reduce costs, or better utilize resources, then it will get funded. But if you can’t, it will get shot down.

Be creative with your AI training and hiring

We’re experiencing a massive skills and resourcing gap in the IT space. In particular, there are nine to ten jobs available for every skilled professional just in the Security space. Since AI is a brand-new skill set, many industry companies are looking to college students or “early in career” candidates to fill these positions. But AI can be learned by people who don’t necessarily have a four-year degree.

In fact, some of our customers are utilizing Cisco Networking Academy to recruit people who aren’t traditional college students. For example, DOD SkillBridge – an amazing program sponsored by the Department of Defense – helps veterans transition out of the military directly into corporate America. For the first six months, they serve as interns for that corporation, funded by DOD SkillBridge, to learn new skills. These veterans are highly motivated and skilled people who perform well under pressure, and many of them already have experience in networking, cybersecurity, AI, and logistics. Through SkillBridge, Cisco has recruited more than 120 veterans in the last two years. It’s an amazing way to give these people an opportunity to enter the workforce using a low-risk, high-success model.

In closing

While there are seemingly hundreds of decisions to make about AI, the wisest course of action is to start conservatively. Determine what AI tools are (or are not) OK for your employees to use. Begin with internal AI projects that you can control to protect your IP. If you can’t develop or buy AI technology, consider partnering with another company who can provide it. Ensure you have the right employees with skillsets to understand and manage it. Then see how AI can be applied to improve both your employee experience, your customer experience, and your company profile.

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