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Do Organizations Need a Chief AI Officer?

As companies increasingly add chief artificial intelligence officers (CAIOs) to their roster of senior executives, a recently released report from IT research firm Gartner raises questions about whether companies need to create this brand-new role.

HR executives have been looking for talent that has AI knowhow, and organizations across many different sectors have recently created CAIO positions—many of them doing so after November 2022, when OpenAI launched ChatGPT.

Generative AI’s (GenAI’s) ability to create content such as text, images, audio and animation has attracted enterprise investments to the tune of nearly $16 billion worldwide in 2023, with funding going to GenAI software, related infrastructure hardware, and IT or business services, according to International Data Corporation (IDC). IDC estimates that by 2027, GenAI investments will grow to $143 billion.

IBM and Dell announced their CAIOs in 2023, and organizations outside of the tech sector followed suit. Accenture, The Mayo Clinic in Arizona and WPP, a marketing company, have since launched CAIOs.

“Every organization should have a chief AI officer or someone in that capacity, as it’s an essential role to bringing your company’s transformative vision to life by fully tapping into your own data combined with a holistic strategy of using AI,” said Lan Guan, CAIO at Accenture.

Michael Fitzsimmons, CEO at Crosschq, a Danville, Calif.-based recruitment software provider, conducted a data query to find out how many individuals had a vice president or C-suite title with AI in it. Only 837 of the 1 million titles analyzed matched those parameters. The information came from a number of public social data sources, including LinkedIn.

“Of the profiles I have seen of AI professionals working at medium to large size companies, they are not necessarily hardcore data scientists as much as they are strategists navigating the landscape and being able to balance the legal and ethical implications of AI technology,” Fitzsimmons said.

Are CAIOs Necessary?

However, Gartner researchers said companies don’t necessarily need executives to take on AI duties.

“Gartner’s position is that each time there is a disruption or new era of technology, another C-suite role is not necessarily warranted—at least not right away. A seat at the C-suite level takes years to build up to, embrace and justify. As such, most enterprises do not need a chief of AI,” the research paper stated.

Gartner analyst Frances Karamouzis, one of the authors of the research paper, told SHRM Online that artificial intelligence and generative AI are “incredibly ubiquitous”; cross many functional business lines including HR, security, data and analytics; and apply to every business function. 

Karamouzis added that creating a CAIO with a budget and a team of employees could complicate how companies manage AI projects.

“We don't think the billions of dollars that are going to be spent on AI is going to be handed over to someone new in the C-suite role. We think that a lot of these projects are about different priorities. They get funded by either the CEO or someone who is leading the business unit,” she said.

She also gave the example of a CHRO mulling over the use of AI to develop a new way of recruiting, finding applicants or managing evaluations, and noted that the CHRO, who may need help with AI tools to achieve their objective, is not going to relinquish their budget to the CAIO.

“That CHRO is going to say, ‘Please come help me as the head of the AI team to think through the other issues on governance, on security, on bias from the data, and all the different elements that need to happen, whether they are technical or functional,’ ” Karamouzis said.  

Integrated AI Team

In lieu of creating the CAIO position, a better approach is to identify someone in the organization who can orchestrate the coming together of a multidisciplinary team of people and who will take a holistic and integrated approach to AI, Karamouzis said.

She explained that the person needs to align AI to the business strategy, orchestrate multidisciplinary governance and make sure that the organization is watching out for all the different elements of measurement, including security, talent, trust, decision-making, ethics and compliance.

“Our advice is very clear in the document—forget the chief AI officer job title and focus on the value of AI and how you are going to bring together this multidisciplinary reality for the organization. We think organizations need to have business strategies that infuse AI and not an AI technology road map that masquerades as some kind of strategy,” Karamouzis said.

Still, observers can expect more appointments of new CAIOs in 2024, especially at federal government agencies, where there is a move afoot to find CAIOs as part of the Biden administration’s executive order on artificial intelligence. In recent months, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation have created and filled CAIO positions. 

Accenture’s Guan said a recruiter looking for a qualified CAIO should identify a candidate whose career trajectory has been nonlinear, with varied experience.

“Given the critical role the CAIO plays in integrating AI strategies into the organization’s overall business objectives, it’s important to possess a unique blend of technical acumen, strategic thinking, leadership experience and deep industry knowledge with a firm understanding of the business,” Guan said.

She added that while technical proficiency is necessary, “equally if not more valuable is their ability to lead, problem-solve, connect and collaborate with others across the enterprise, and set a strategic vision with an eye to the future. CAIOs frequently need to gain buy-in from stakeholders and demonstrate impact across the value chain, so strong communication skills are also a must.”

Nicole Lewis is a freelance writer based in Miami.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.