Corporations have long anticipated the day when technology truly revolutionizes operations from top to bottom. In this scenario, artificial intelligence would fuel value creation, with algorithms driving business activities efficiently and with precision. Digitization would drive transformation. 

The reality? Most companies failed to come even close to meeting this potential. In fact, many executives are far more comfortable embracing the breakthrough potential of tech in their homes or cars than in their businesses. While it may seem entirely natural to now rely on digital assistants to direct us from Point A to Point B or suggest a playlist for a dinner party, handing over too much responsibility to AI feels too far out of reach for many businesses.

It is a mistake, however, to continue treating AI as just another tool for the human workforce to episodically utilize. This prevents companies from harnessing the transformative potential of smart technologies, such as machine learning, and blocks the workforce from reaching a new level of collaboration. 

What if companies wholeheartedly embraced technology as a coworker, rather than confining it to a particular department or laundry list of episodic, individual business problems to address?

That’s the question companies need to ask themselves in 2022. And that question must be asked at the very top of the organization. This is the only way culture change really happens. 

To understand the potential, think back to the development of online marketplaces like Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon, for example. These services went from being a novelty to Corporate America’s lifeblood over a two-decade span. Not long ago, skepticism was commonplace, and resistance to integrating was widespread. That view, however, proved shortsighted and even fatal. History books are full of companies rendered obsolete by an unwillingness to evolve. 

AI is as potent a transformative force. At the Fortune Brainstorm AI conference we attended, Landing AI Founder Andrew Ng agreed that, while the internet unlocked enormous value for those companies willing to employ it, AI has the potential to be even more transformational. 

But to win, businesses must develop a digital workforce, treating technology more like a co-worker and collaborator, and less like a tool. 

CEOs and other leaders find it daunting to develop a full vision or understanding of how specifically to integrate technology as a collaborator across the enterprise. The good news is they aren’t required to be deep technology experts or have spent their career building AI models. Just like any other function in the organization, leaders need to embrace the role of technology as a resource performing a function, just as your human talent does. Once a company’s leadership defines the resource’s role, the experts can better handle the nuts and bolts of implementation.

One of the companies we’ve observed effectively embracing this strategy is the legendary toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker. When Chief Executive Jim Loree hired Mukesh Dalal as the new chief AI officer last year, he made Dalal part of the HR department. He didn’t think there should be a separation between the human resources and AI resources working collaboratively across the company. In fact, they considered changing the name of the human resources department to just “Resources” – representing a new way of thinking about the assets the company employs.

AlixPartners has developed a new way of thinking on how companies should transition from a specialty technology approach to one that truly relies on an integrated and collaborative digital workforce – including both people and technology – across the enterprise. 

In this framework:

  •     Data operates as the Supplier
  •     Cloud serves as the Democratizer
  •     AI plays the role of a Seer
  •     Cyber stands guard as Protector

In a series of posts to be published in the coming weeks, we will explain these four roles and explain how integrating technology as a core resource can drive value creation and give people levels of insight that they didn’t have before. If you can imagine, for example, a company where digital assistants keep tabs on priorities discussed in meetings, or an organization where actionable data is available to everyone who needs it, when they need it - then you can imagine the power of a corporate digital workforce.