The Data Chief | Episode 17

Bernard Marr on Ai strategy and change management

Bernard Marr

Founder & CEO

Bernard Marr & Co

Current EpisodeEP17: Bernard Marr on Ai strategy and change management

Episode Overview

Joining Cindi today is Bernard Marr, internationally bestselling author, futurist, keynote speaker, and strategic advisor to companies and governments. On this episode, Bernard and Cindi discuss why businesses should treat AI as a focused strategy rather than a resource-draining experiment, five ways we can determine how to implement AI as a strategy that addresses the needs of our business, overcoming a company culture's resistance to change, ensuring that AI augments rather than replaces humans, nowcasting versus forecasting in a post-pandemic world, using data for good, and much more.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use AI as a strategy, not an experiment. AI should be applied strategically to the needs of your business, not treated as an experiment. Here, Bernard presents five lenses that will help you determine how AI can be focused appropriately.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel. Chances are pretty good there's an existing AI tool -- from Salesforce, Oracle, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, etc. -- that will suit the needs of your company without having to invest the time, energy, and money to start from scratch.
  • Overcoming a company culture's resistance to change. What it takes to get the top levels of your organization aware of what AI is capable of doing for the business, and communicating to all levels that it's a tool for augmenting -- not replacing -- human staff.

Key Quotes:

How is Bernard such a prolific distiller of knowledge?

This is always the way I have learned. Instead of [just] taking notes, I write an article. And in terms of writing books ... I start writing articles to cover the various chapters.

Overcoming company culture that stands in the way of data-driven decision-making:

I think once the top of the organization understands what can be done, then it’s really important to take everyone with you on this journey. So it’s about communicating [and] engaging, because I also feel that there’s lots of scaremongering and lots of fear. If you mention the word “AI,” people become scared about their jobs and the change that this might bring. And this is really important that you actually put the people into the driving seat and say, ‘Okay, let’s use this technology to make your jobs better. Let’s make our services better, our product better — in the end, our company more successful.

Augmentation, not replacement:

[AI] will augment all our jobs rather than replace them. Augmentation means it will change the jobs that we do; it will also create some new jobs that don’t exist today. I am a firm believer that a lot of jobs we will have in five or 10 years’ time don’t exist today in the same way that was the case if we look back 10 years ago, if someone said ‘You are going to be a social media influencer,’ or ‘You’re going to be a data scientist.’ People just didn’t know what those jobs were. … it’s really important that we look at every single job in our organization and say, ‘Okay, what will AI mean for this in the future? How will [AI] augment this?

Preparing customers for necessary transitions:

You have to invest in skills and training and awareness and taking people with you. And interestingly, when I work with customers, I actually tell them that they should expect to invest a similar amount of time and money in the cultural transition and the skills development as they would expect to invest in technology.

Nowcasting vs. forecasting in a COVID-19 world:

We’ve seen this accelerated pace of change now for some time; what this pandemic has done is just put a rocket under it and changed it even faster. And what businesses like Walmart are doing — and they’ve done this now for a very long time — they only take into account the last 90 days of transactions of their transaction data to make predictions about trends and what people might want to buy. Especially during this pandemic where so many consumer behaviors shifted completely, data that is a few months old is no longer relevant. I think the entire world is becoming more used to using real-time data. Governments are now looking at the pandemic and how it is spreading and how the different policies are working and they’re making decisions based on data and science every single day as the data changes.

How can we make sure we’re using our data wisely and not just becoming digital hoarders?

If you can approach this strategically and say, ‘Okay, what are the most important strategic challenges we have as a business? How can data help us?’ If we then focus on collecting those data points and those datasets that will help us solve those problems, you very quickly get to this 80/20 rule where actually you’re generating 80 percent of the value with 20 percent of the data.

Why data-driven decision-making needs to operate at every level of an organization — not just the top:

If all the decision-making in the organization has concentrated to the top, you will not have an innovative environment where you democratize data to allow everyone in the organization to make better decisions. So with giving people the ability to access data and analyze data, you also have to give them the authority and the freedom to make better decisions based on that data. And if you create hierarchical bottlenecks in the system, it will just stifle innovation.

What are Benard’s predictions for the future?:

When I look into the future, I tend to look five or 10 years ahead across all of the different technologies, and for me, 5G, will just enable AI. It will enable big data. It will enable the Internet of Things. And another key trend it will enable is extended reality — so augmented and virtual reality. So some of these things we have, we can only do in our office environments where we are connected with networks to our cloud servers. In the future, we can do this in a mobile environment, which will really transform some of these technologies.

Why trust is paramount to the success of anyone dealing in data:

I am a huge advocate of privacy and ethics around technology. This is, for me, a key enabler, and I believe that companies and organizations that don’t make sure that they treat data with the respect and they don’t keep it safe and they don’t protect people’s privacy will simply lose trust. And for me, the trust is the foundation of any relationship you will have with your customers in the future. So if customers don’t trust you, they won’t share data with you. And if they don’t share data with you, you lose a huge competitive asset to your organization.

Why is consumer trust in our industry so low right now, and what can we do to turn this perception around?

‘Waiting for the regulator’ is an extremely lame excuse that lots of companies take. They say, ‘Okay, there isn’t any regulation. I’m not breaking any rules.’ and therefore carry on doing it.’ And we all know that technology is moving so fast today in all of the different areas, be it AI or big data or 5G or any of them, that the regulators are lagging behind by a long time. So by the time we have regulation, it is far too late. So for me, companies need to take the initiative, and this is what we’re seeing. We’re seeing [certain] organizations putting guidelines in place for trustworthy and more ethical AI. And we see organizations actually taking a step here and lots of big AI companies are now coming together to say, ‘Okay, let’s jointly work together on better guidelines. We don’t want to wait for the regulator. We want to start doing this better.'


Bernard Marr is a futurist, big data expert, storyteller, visionary, keynote speaker, and strategic business and technology advisor to companies and governments. He advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organizations, helping them improve their business performance, use data more intelligently, and understand the implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, blockchains, and the Internet of Things.

LinkedIn has ranked Bernard as one of the world’s top five business influencers. He is a frequent contributor to the World Economic Forum and writes a regular column for Forbes. Every day Bernard actively engages his 1.5 million social media followers and shares content that reaches millions of readers.

Bernard is the author of 18 books and hundreds of high profile reports and articles, including the international bestsellers Data Strategy, Big Data in Practice, Big Data, Key Business Analytics, Key Performance Indicators, The Intelligent Company, Managing and Delivering Performance, and Strategic Performance Management. His books have been translated into over 20 languages and have earned numerous Amazon number-one bestselling positions, the CMI Management Book of the Year award, the Axiom book award, and the WHSmith best business book award. Not one to rest on his laurels, Bernard has most recently published The Intelligence Revolution: Transforming Your Business with AI, and Tech Trends in Practice: The 25 Technologies that are Driving the 4th Industrial Revolution.