A quick search associating the words revolution and artificial intelligence on the Google Scholar site – itself is driven by artificial intelligence (AI) – makes it possible to find more than 30,000 scientific articles, and this, just for the year 2020. If the promises of artificial intelligence have multiplied in recent years, its real effects on the efficiency of organizations and on innovation are still struggling to materialize.
Whether it is the introduction of microcomputing, the implementation of integrated management systems, or the rapid developments of the Internet and electronic commerce, history shows that the integration of technologies into organizations does not run smoothly: processes and business models are changing while skills and practices must constantly be adapted to better reflect this new digital reality.
It is on the basis of these observations that a small group of managers from different Montreal organizations – such as Artificial Intelligence in Health (EIAS) – began to meet in spring 2019 with the ambition to explore how to concretely ensure the sustainable integration of artificial intelligence in organizations.
After some brainstorming, the formula of a community emerged, because the managers wanted to actively participate in the solution, by discussing all together with the experiments, and management practices to be improved. “The adoption of AI by Quebec companies has accelerated in recent years,” said one of the community members from the start of the project. “The deployment of this technology in companies has brought about operational and organizational changes. It is now necessary to manage these changes effectively in order to generate value for our businesses.
For the initiators of the community, the primary goal of this approach was as follows: to promote an open conversation between people from organizations genuinely interested in participating in the project in order to share and enrich the reflection on the integration of artificial intelligence at the heart of industries.
The first meetings made it possible to establish some operating principles, such as the emphasis placed on the sharing of learning and the importance of mobilizing organizations from different sectors in order to enrich perspectives. It was also agreed not to invite consulting companies or solution developers to these meetings. These very assumed orientations allowed the participants to contribute serenely, by sharing their experiments and by questioning themselves as much about their successes as about their doubts. Participating in this community is for me a way of learning from my peer leaders. Knowing that leaders in the field of AI share the same challenges as I do and are experimenting with new processes, methods and approaches reassures me and inspires me to pursue the responsible integration of AI for the benefit of society. “
A community based on authenticity and trust
At the end of August 2019, seven organizations gathered around a table to define a common mission and vision for this network. A few ideation sessions accompanied by facilitators helped build a community whose members immediately felt on an equal footing.
Concretely, it was about creating an open and heterodox collaborative space to share best practices, as well as to express doubts, learn from failures and jointly identify topics of interest. Some members also saw in this pooling effort an opportunity to better identify and better define needs, in order to orient research and collaborations with solution providers, in particular by making them aware of the issues of implementation and implantation of AI in organizations, beyond technical advances.
Beginning in the fall of 2020, members decided to expand the circle of the community to include academia and government, to ensure that they have different players around the same table, and to promote open and informal discussions on needs of each one. This is how a member of discussion became clearer around questions of knowledge management, change management, the process of value creation, business translation, etc. For the participants, beyond the expression of needs, the identification of these common concerns still makes it possible today to dialogue effectively with researchers and to contribute to the orientations of future research programs. In discussions with higher education institutions, there are also key elements for properly identifying the skills development and continuing training needs of companies.
The community meets every two months. The members take turns in handling the meetings and presenting the topic to be addressed by sharing their experiences in the form of a real case study. Subsequently, the facilitators facilitate exchanges between the participants so that they in turn express themselves and pass on their knowledge. Between meetings, members communicate with each other, consult and help each other on more specific topics.
Thus, the community exists and contributes to the reflections of its members beyond the meetings themselves, and constitutes a growing repository of knowledge, experiences, and new ideas potentially useful to all. “We quickly realized that our challenges were similar from one organization to another. Curiously, the meetings we had on the sidelines of the official community meetings with the other members were more than profitable. These meetings allowed us to go deeper into elements not covered during the meetings. We were then able to identify the pitfalls to avoid. Likewise, these moments have considerably enriched the depth of internal strategic discussions around the valuation of AI. “
The key to the success of this community is commitment, mutual trust, and the safe space that has been created for participants. “These principles, I feel them in our community. I hope to co-develop with the other member’s innovative approaches tested in our organizations from various sectors in order to contribute to the generation of new knowledge in the integration of AI in organizations. I also hope that through this community, leader members apply to learn within their organization, contributing to the successful integration and transformation of their organization for the benefit of society.
The crisis, an accelerator of change
The COVID-19 pandemic has paradoxically contributed to the acceleration of the activities of the community, the more frequent virtual meetings (at a monthly rate) allowing a more regular exchange on the practices experienced in organizations.
The many requests to participate also present a challenge to community members. While they are calmly contemplating its expansion to other organizations, a few principles are however well established, such as not welcoming members who come “to sell or to take” only. The richness and depth of the exchanges also encourage the activities to be structured even more, by forming thematic sub-communities responsible for preparing and moderating certain sessions on topics of specific interest.
After almost two years of operation, the usefulness and legitimacy of the community are well established, and its members want to strengthen its reach. This community is already playing a unique guiding and thinking role in managing AI in a complex and growing innovation ecosystem. And nothing will enable organizations to understand these challenges and find ways to overcome them better than the true sharing of experiences and best practices.