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The rise of the chief artificial intelligence officer

February 2024
“Seriously? Is this really needed?”

When it comes to hiring another senior technology leader, chief executives could be forgiven for letting out a weary sigh and expressing some initial scepticism.

After all, when surveying their slate of top-level executives, they’re almost certainly going to find a chief digital officer (CDO) and chief information officer (CIO) already in situ.

Then there’s likely to be a chief data officer and chief information security officer, not to mention an array of senior IT managers already in position around decision-making tables. So with that in mind, do organisations really need to hire a chief artificial intelligence officer (CAIO) too?

Well, yes, actually. The sooner the better. But only after proper consideration and with the right support and structure in place.

Let’s rewind 18 months or so. Artificial Intelligence (AI) had long since taken root on the corporate landscape and was being deployed in areas such as predictive maintenance, tracking customer behaviour and automating manual processes. But in November 2022, the arrival of Generative AI (GenAI) sent shockwaves through organisations large and small.

Business leaders were suddenly confronted with the looming prospect of their industries being disrupted by algorithms which could generate new content and ideas, designs and processes. This step change signified that long-established business models (not to mention numerous occupations) could well be living on borrowed time.

At the same time, businesses are also being reshaped by the sheer ubiquity of data. When used well, data can help drive better, more informed decisions, fuel efficiencies and underpin scalable solutions which can transform service delivery for the better. But it’s not guaranteed. Organisations need the right leaders, teams and structures in place to harness this potential — something which is far from assured.

When seen against this context, it’s little wonder that CAIOs are fast emerging as a key option for any CEOs to consider. In fact, this process is already underway: according to data from Foundry, 11% of medium to large organisations already have a designated CAIO or equivalent in the role, and 21% of organisations are actively looking to hire one.


of medium to large organizations have already designated CAIO equivalent or similar individual in the role


of organizations are actively looking to hire a CAIO equivalent or similar individual

But where should such individuals sit? What does it take to ensure such a role will have the desired impact? And are such positions really needed?

There are two principal options for where and how a CAIO might operate within any given organisation. Under both scenarios, the role occupies a senior and central place in the organisational structure, a position which reflects the importance of blending excitement about GenAI’s possibilities with the necessary guardrails of compliance, ethics and risk.

The first option is as a direct report to the CEO. Here, the CAIO will be able to play a strategic and cross-functional role beyond tech, and will be well-placed to collaborate with other key leaders to drive and leverage AI initiatives, as well as make strategic decisions about the company’s AI investments and resource allocations.

The second is reporting to another senior leader, such as the CIO, for example. Under this scenario, the CAIO can work in partnership with other business units to develop and integrate AI strategy, as well as playing a central role in the technology team and working closely with data engineers, scientists and researchers.

Data & Al have arrived at the core of the business, transforming business models and industry set-ups. CAIOs are no longer only essential for technology businesses but for organizations of all types.

It is important to note, though, that viewing a CAIO as a one-size-fits-all solution would be mistaken. There are other ways to address these challenges which organisations should consider — such as merging the role with the CDO, for example. There is also the risk that a CAIO might not be sufficiently connected to the business to have the desired impact, or lack the necessary commercial nous to drive profitable growth.

This all means that if a company proceeds down the CAIO route, it would need to ensure that their appointee would need to be much more than a top technology leader with superior AI expertise. After all, theirs would be a remit which sees them responsible for developing and seamlessly integrating the company’s overall AI strategy from design to implementation.

CAIOs also need to lead from the front when it comes to transformation by spearheading efforts to use AI to modernise processes and foster an ‘AI-first culture’. Money, too, is vital: CAIOs should have financial authority for internal AI investments and developing external partnerships. And they also need to be genuine thought leaders by shaping opinions and deploying a visionary approach to AI-driven organisational transformation.

Doing all this isn’t easy but it can be done if the CAIO possesses the right blend of personality traits and skills. What might these be?

An important starting point for any aspiring CAIO is that they have to be passionate about the technology itself.

Without genuine enthusiasm and excitement they might struggle to overcome the inevitable barriers that can stymie any major transformation programme — risk aversion, organisational silos and ineffective governance all spring to mind. This is an all too common risk unfortunately; some 70% of transformations fail, according to McKinsey.

Alongside passion, the CAIO also has to be able to drive innovation and efficiency. This demands not only the ability to be forward thinking and expert knowledge of how this bleeding-edge technology can be used to create new solutions, but also a range of people skills.

Without empathy, adaptability and collaboration, CAIOs might well struggle to lead teams which are made up of an eclectic blend of data scientists, engineers and developers, to name a few. Should they possess this blend of traits and skills, CAIOs will be well placed to drive significant change and innovation through this technology.

Who Makes a Successful CAIO?


Passionate about leveraging AI

Drive Innovation & Efficiency




Forward Thinking


AI Understanding

Business Impact & Acumen

Communication Skills

Leadership Skills

Ethical & Legal Knowledge

Strategy & Vision

In the short term, this would manifest itself through company-wide adoption of AI and being a thought leader in the industry. This would then evolve into new business opportunities and top and bottom-line growth. CAIOs themselves would also have strengthened their position as a leader in the tech industry, a shift which would help enable them to influence its broader direction.

There is little doubt that the suite of technologies and capabilities which make up AI is advancing at warp speed. At work or at home, what we have become accustomed to over the years is now likely to be uprooted by this era of transformational change.

Yes, there are challenges ahead — ethics, governance and compliance should form a prominent part of any conversation about AI given its lack of transparency and the danger of biased algorithms — but the fact remains that organisations which fail to adapt to this new reality will fast be left behind by their competitors.

Just as with digital, there are many options for CEOs to ponder. They should all consider whether the CAIO route is one they should go down, and of course think about the relationship dynamics of creating such a role. But if they opt for this route, any who might be hesitating to greenlight a recruitment process should pause no longer. There’s no time to waste.


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