IT Leadership

AI Will Lead to Increase in Jobs Rather Than Cut Jobs: Vijay Sethi

The CIO community and the media covering this community in India has long been vocal about the need for CIOs to emerge out of their technology avatar and don the business mantle if they truly want to move up the leadership curve and find a seat at the board. However, over the years there have only been a handful of CIOs who have managed to transcend the conventional organizational structures and get truly recognized as business leaders.

Vijay Sethi, CIO, Hero MotoCorp, who belongs to these handful of CIOs in the country, has not only walked the talk, but also taken it a step further. He was already successfully juggling the two portfolios of IT and CSR while also leading the company’s innovation efforts for the past few years, when recently the company’s board decided to hand him over the additional charge of the crucial Human Resources (HR) portfolio as well.

Being both the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and CIO of the world’s largest two wheeler manufacturing company, we couldn’t help ourselves but ask him for his honest views on the most pertinent and burning issue today related to both these domains – will Artificial Intelligence (AI) lead to job losses? It is interesting to know his point of view on this debate as the custodian of AI technology as well as jobs at Hero MotoCorp.

Rahul Neel Mani and Shipra Malhotra of dynamicCIO spoke to Sethi about AI’s impact on two of the core HR aspects – jobs and culture.

  1. Now that you are the HR head also, we are very keen to know your take on AI and its impact on jobs.

Looking at the initial 3-4 years of AI’s uptake and its current state in India, I believe that AI will actually lead to increase in jobs rather than cut jobs. While AI would impact one kind of jobs, it will create another kind of jobs. It will lead to an increase in jobs at all levels. At the base level, it will generate demand for jobs around data collection, data cleansing, etc. Moving forward, as companies start generating and accumulating more and more data, the demand for more high-end jobs such as data scientists, algorithm experts, data analytics and predictive analytics experts will increase.

  1. As a CHRO what other areas do you foresee AI impacting organizations?

From an HR perspective, there is a huge issue that companies will face, especially in India, because of culture. We do not have a culture of using data driven decisions. Most of us will take the data and see the trends, but at the end will still take decisions based on the gut feel. The moment AI comes in, the human aspect is out. Then, its the machine that is taking the decisions. Do I have the culture in the organization where I do not get into those decisions and the machine is taking the decision on its own? Suppose, I have to make my marketing strategy for next year, can I leave it to the machine? Is my company’s management and even the junior clerk really really ready to accept data based decisions? I don’t think culturally India is ready for that yet. Organizations will have to go through a huge culture change and that itself will be a huge work over the next few years to change the culture. It will take 3-4 years’ time before AI gets mainstreamed and acceptable.

Companies need to start focusing on the culture. Right now, the problem is that most of the people who think of AI, are only thinking of technology. They are not thinking of process and culture. Companies think that they have put in AI and now the data will start coming and everything is done.

  1. Who should be in-charge of bringing that culture change – CIO, CHRO, CEO?

Its neither the CIO, the CHRO or CEO who alone can do that. It has to be a responsibility of all the leadership team members. If you are bringing in AI in finance, then why not have the CFO responsible for bringing in the cultural change? If you are doing it in supply chain, then why not the head of supply chain? First your leadership team has to culturally accept this part, that yes data based decisions are important and can be done. It is this layer that has to be convinced first. But, then let me also warn you that is also the most difficult layer to convince because they have the most experience and their value in organization is also there because they can take decisions. And, by bringing in AI you are making redundant that value they bring to the table, threatening their sense of the power they hold. Hence, convincing the leadership team and making them accept the data driven decisions culture is key.

  1. Where are you currently in your journey towards becoming a data driven organization?

We are currently on that journey of trying to change the culture. In some parts of the business we have changed it already and in some parts its still ongoing. We are working with all the leadership team members to bring about the cultural shift required for data driven decision making.

  1. Your suggestions for other CIOs on how they should bring about a cultural change and shift towards data driven decision making?

First the CIOs should change themselves. Are they willing to give up their technology role or their technology comfort zone and willing to come out of it? If you can do that then half the battle is won. Most of the CIOs are still comfortable discussing the nitty-gritties of technology like how much MPLS they have and how many and what kind of servers they have put. Because that’s where they feel their power is. Till the time you are caught in that mode, you will not start thinking of culture, processes and how to get the value.

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