Competing for new forms of intelligent industry

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer merely of interest to tech start-ups and other technology-based segments. It only may be a matter of time, but the artificial intelligence revolution is imminent in many industries.

The use of AI technology brings numerous commercial benefits: it makes it possible, for example, for repetitive but hazardous activities to be taken over by computers or robots. In some power plants, jobs without robots are inconceivable – the immensely high radiation levels would simply not be survivable for people. The qualified employee can, however, then focus on other important strategic tasks. In medicine, artificial intelligence will make it possible to make accurate diagnoses and give prognoses as well as to set up made-to-measure treatment plans.

In the early days of AI – as in other sectors – there was no direct strategic planning of the new market. The roots of the industry reach back to the 1950s and were initially purely academic in nature. Only in the last ten years or so, however, has AI been no longer driven forward primarily by academic research but rather the possible commercial fields of application. The technological possibilities are now so extensive and solid, that one can now speak of market maturity. The alleged gimmicks created by Google, IBM and others have given rise to applications that are of key importance for companies from a wide variety of industries: from logistics and mobility, via marketing and medicine to industrial production. Of course, the question remains: what can AI do that a human being cannot? Put simply, AI systems can process vastly more information than people. In the process, they are more systematic, analyse more deeply, detect exceptions better and thereby come to appropriate conclusions. These artificial skills help in numerous different scenarios such as autonomous traffic control, customer service and the analysis of legal cases.

The already immensely high share of AI in new software applications will increase further. Interest in the technology is increasing and there will soon no longer be any reputable companies that generate relevant system updates without AI.

The flip side of the coin

This progress, in which almost all innovative companies are looking for the best expertise, also has its downside, because the specialists and executives being sought are scarce and not easy to find. Large companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, eBay and Cisco have absorbed small, specialised AI companies to bring the required AI know-how on board. It is not the classic specialist and leadership deficiency which is at work here. AI is an attractive area, which many specialists and executives now want to move into. Rather, it is the complexity of AI issues and the concomitant difficulty of recruiting suitable staff. There is no standard operating procedure for recruiting suitable employees. A successful activity requires state-of-the-art technical knowledge and business expertise to analyse and optimise a wide range of processes. Most importantly, it needs the proverbial ability to rethink issues.

The battle for AI talents

One company that has been researching and developing in the field of AI since 1995 is arago GmbH in Frankfurt am Main. arago GmbH is one of the leading AI companies worldwide and is also struggling to recruit the brightest minds to pursue this complex technology. In particular, the extensive technical background knowledge required often provides a major challenge for recruitment. Corporate culture in the field of artificial intelligence is often different to the work environments in which most of the candidates have accumulated their professional experience. The work is issue-oriented and politics-free so that the technical questions remain in focus and there are no other issues to distract or burden employees. The typical candidate who switches to an AI environment has a professional background in one of the established IT companies or IT consulting and has, in most cases, so far encountered a quite different working culture and other working methods.

Candidate profile for AI is not standard

There is no standardised profile for candidates in the AI field, but there are three main classifications, which describe and define an AI expert. Typically, he has a touch of the classic ‘nerd’, but also a pronounced affinity for new topics and trends. He is also a technology evangelist and has a professional background in IT, but can also, however, come from an engineering or physics background. Last but not least, there are the process consulting skills to analyse and also expedite complex business processes.

The chief human resources officer at arago GmbH, Markus Leven, spoke recently on the subject of recruitment of AI specialists. He said, “We are developing an exciting technology and offer our clients their own AI platform. We do not merely provide products that are delivered or supported by AI technology. We are, of course, looking for new colleagues who are technically and professionally highly qualified. They need to be performance-oriented and have a strong drive for professional development, and also be motivated to try out new things and question traditional methods. Our corporate culture is oriented on Robert Sutton’s ‘No asshole rule’; the employee must fit in our team.”

One thing that all professionals and executives in the field of AI have in common: they are communicative; they are skilled at making presentations; they can talk to audiences; and they are self-confident. This all requires a high degree of self-discipline and organisation. But the typical AI specialist needs someone within the company who supports him by guiding him towards new topics and helping him to move ahead in a goal-oriented manner.

Strategies and staff

It will soon be impossible to imagine life without artificial intelligence. It will be ever-present in all companies, sectors and segments. In addition to a sophisticated strategy for successfully employing and applying or even training this technology, competent staff are required. These employees should not, however, be recruited by short-term actionism or identified using some standardised screening method. Rather, it is more a question of highlighting candidates according to their desires and interests and scrutinising the three main clusters: Nerds, evangelists and process consultants. Of course, successful recruitment also involves ensuring that creative and technology-savvy hires also bring the necessary soft skills and personality so they can easily find their feet in the respective dominant corporate culture.

Dr. Monika Becker, Head of Business Unit Software, Hager Unternehmensberatung

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