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Saturday July 20th, 2024

AI, The Game Changer: How Does One Navigate This Maze?

Ramesh Shanmuganathan Executive Vice President and Group CIO at John Keells Holdings (JKH), and Chief Executive of John Keells IT

Ramesh Shanmuganathan, an Executive Vice President and Group CIO at John Keells Holdings (JKH), and Chief Executive of John Keells IT, deep-dives into the transformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) within organizations and the IT sector. 

Underscoring the rapid advancements in AI and the diverse range of applications it offers across various industries, Shanmuganathan looks at its potential applications from personalized healthcare, autonomous transportation, advanced customer service, smart home automation, environmental sustainability, augmented creativity, enhanced financial services, smart agriculture, personalized education, and more. He also discusses the role of generative AI in simplifying software development, emphasizing that while it aids in certain tasks, it doesn’t replace the expertise of skilled developers.

Shanmuganathan provides insights into the ethical considerations and challenges associated with AI, recommending that organizations invest in AI skills, encourage innovation, and maintain a collaborative approach to fully capitalize on AI’s benefits. Additionally, he suggests that technology service providers can seize opportunities in AI consulting, development, data management, automation, and maintenance. To succeed in this space, Shanmuganathan says in this interview, providers should build AI-specific expertise, stay updated on AI advancements, collaborate with industry leaders, offer comprehensive solutions, and specialize in specific industry domains. In essence, the article emphasizes that AI holds significant potential for organizations and IT and provides guidance on how to navigate this transformative landscape effectively.

Companies have been using AI for various applications for years. Today, with the kind of advancement that we are seeing in the field, what are possible new applications that you foresee in the immediate future?
AI has been transforming various industries over the years, and its advancements continue to open up exciting new possibilities. Here are some possible new applications of AI that we can expect in the immediate future:

  1. Personalized healthcare: AI could play a crucial role in revolutionizing healthcare by offering personalized treatment plans and precision medicine. It could analyze vast amounts of patient data, including medical records, genetics, and lifestyle factors, to provide tailored recommendations and improve diagnostic accuracy.
  2. Autonomous vehicles and transportation: With ongoing advancements in self-driving technology, AI could pave the way for the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. It could optimize traffic flow, enhance road safety, reduce congestion, and revolutionize public transportation systems.
  3. Natural language processing (NLP) and chatbots: NLP-powered chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, enabling more natural and intelligent conversations with users. Soon, AI-powered chatbots could handle complex customer queries, offer personalized assistance, and provide seamless customer service across multiple channels.
  4. Smart home automation: AI can enhance smart home systems by learning user preferences, predicting their needs, and automating various tasks. From adjusting lighting and temperature based on individual preferences to managing appliances and security systems, AI-powered smart homes could create more convenient and comfortable living environments.
  5. Environmental monitoring and sustainability: AI could assist in monitoring and managing environmental resources more effectively. It could be used for advanced climate modelling, analyzing data from sensors to predict natural disasters, optimizing energy consumption, and identifying strategies for sustainable practices.
  6. Augmented creativity: AI-driven tools are already aiding artists, musicians, and writers with creative projects. In the future, we may see AI assisting in generating novel ideas, creating artwork or music collaboratively, and providing inspiration and support for creative endeavours.
  7. Financial services and fraud detection: AI algorithms have been successful in detecting patterns of fraudulent activities in financial transactions. With further advancements, AI could become more adept at identifying and preventing financial fraud, enhancing cybersecurity, and detecting anomalies in real-time.
  8. Smart agriculture: AI could revolutionize agriculture by optimizing crop yields, monitoring plant health, and managing resources efficiently. With the help of AI-powered drones, robots, and data analytics, farmers can make data-driven decisions to improve productivity and minimize environmental impact.
  9. Personal assistants and productivity tools: AI-powered personal assistants, like digital companions, can provide proactive assistance by understanding user preferences and anticipating their needs. They can automate routine tasks, manage schedules, provide personalized recommendations, and enhance overall productivity.
  10. Education and personalized learning: AI can transform education by adapting learning materials to suit individual student needs, providing personalized tutoring and feedback, and automating administrative tasks. It can help create dynamic and interactive learning experiences that cater to various learning styles and abilities.

As the field of AI continues to evolve rapidly, these are just a glimpse of the exciting possibilities that lie ahead. The immediate future holds tremendous potential for AI to shape industries and improve various aspects of our lives.

In the past, to dwell in software and application development would have meant that you needed to be an expert at it. Now, with Generative AI, it’s claimed that anyone with reasonable knowledge about these can write software and build applications. Is this for real? 

Generative AI has indeed opened new possibilities in software and application development, making it more accessible to a wider range of individuals. While it is true that generative AI can assist in automating certain aspects of software development, it is essential to understand its current capabilities and limitations. Generative AI models, such as GPT-3, have been trained on vast amounts of data and can generate human-like text based on specific prompts. This enables them to assist with tasks like code generation, natural language programming, and even providing template-based solutions for simple applications. It can be a helpful tool for developers who are looking for inspiration or assistance during the development process.

However, it is important to note that generative AI is not yet at a stage where it can completely replace the expertise and knowledge of skilled developers. While it can offer suggestions and generate code snippets, it still requires human oversight and validation. The generated code may not always be perfect or meet specific requirements, and it still needs thorough testing and debugging.

Furthermore, building complex applications involves various other aspects beyond just writing code, such as system architecture design, user interface development, and database management. Generative AI may help with certain parts of the development process, but it cannot substitute for the overall understanding, experience, and problem-solving skills that developers bring to the table.

In summary, generative AI has the potential to streamline certain aspects of software and application development, making it more accessible to a broader audience. However, it is important to recognize its current limitations and understand that while it can aid in certain tasks, it does not replace the need for skilled developers with expert knowledge in the field.

With these kinds of advancements in AI, how will the function of IT evolve in an organization and how will this impact the pace of innovation and change as well as the dynamics within and outside the organization? What should organizations do to get the best out of these for themselves?

AI is changing the world in many ways, and one of them is how it affects the function of IT in an organization The advancements in AI will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the function of IT within organizations. AI can help IT professionals with tasks such as data analysis, cybersecurity, cloud computing, software development, and customer service. AI can also automate some of the routine and repetitive tasks that IT workers perform, such as troubleshooting, testing, and maintenance. This can free up time and resources for IT workers to focus on more creative and strategic projects that can drive innovation and change.

Here are some specific trends that are emerging in the use of AI in IT:

  1. Automation and efficiency: AI can automate routine tasks, such as data processing, system monitoring, and software deployment. This allows IT professionals to focus on more strategic and complex activities, thereby increasing operational efficiency.
  2. Enhanced decision-making: AI can analyze vast amounts of data in real-time and provide valuable insights that can inform decision-making within the organization. IT professionals can leverage AI-powered analytics tools to gain a deeper understanding and make data-driven decisions.
  3. Cybersecurity and risk management: With the rise of AI, cybersecurity threats are also evolving. IT professionals will play a crucial role in developing and implementing advanced security measures and defences to protect against new threats posed by AI-driven cyberattacks.
  4. Business process optimization: AI can help identify inefficiencies in business processes and suggest improvements. IT professionals can collaborate with other stakeholders to leverage AI technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA), to streamline operations and enhance productivity.

However, AI also poses some challenges and risks for the IT function and innovation. For example, AI may require new skills and competencies from IT workers, such as data science, machine learning, and ethics. AI may also create new ethical and social issues, such as privacy, bias, accountability, and trust. AI may also disrupt the existing organizational structures and processes, such as decision-making, communication, and collaboration. AI may also increase the complexity and uncertainty of the IT environment, such as data quality, capacity, security, privacy, integration, and interoperability.

Therefore, organizations need to be proactive and adaptive in leveraging the opportunities and managing the challenges of AI for their IT function and innovation. Some of the possible actions that organizations can take are:

  • Investing in training and education for IT workers to develop their AI skills and knowledge.
  • Establishing clear policies and guidelines for the ethical and responsible use of AI in IT projects.
  • Creating a culture of innovation and experimentation that encourages IT workers to explore new possibilities with AI.
  • Fostering collaboration and communication among IT workers and other stakeholders to share ideas, feedback, and best practices with AI.
  • Adopting agile and flexible methods for IT project management that can accommodate the fast pace and dynamic nature of AI

In addition to getting the best out of these advancements, organizations should consider the above and align a well-structured strategy and programme that will address the following:

  1. Stay updated and embrace change: Organizations need to stay abreast of the latest AI technologies and trends. Regularly investing in research and development, training programmes, and partnerships with technology vendors can help organizations stay ahead of the curve.
  2. Foster a culture of innovation: Encourage employees to experiment with AI technologies and explore innovative use cases within the organization. Creating an environment that supports curiosity, collaboration, and continuous learning can drive innovation and help maximize the benefits of AI.
  3. Adopt a holistic approach: It’s vital to view AI as an enabler that complements human capabilities rather than as a replacement. Organizations should identify areas where AI can augment human skills and work collaboratively towards achieving desired outcomes.
  4. Prioritize ethics and transparency: As AI becomes more prominent, organizations must prioritize ethical considerations such as data privacy, bias mitigation, and responsible AI development. Transparency in AI decision-making processes is crucial to fostering trust among employees and customers.

In summary, AI advancements will reshape the role of IT within organizations, bringing opportunities for efficiency, decision-making, and innovation. By staying agile, embracing change, and adopting a thoughtful approach, organizations can harness the power of AI to drive transformative outcomes and gain a competitive edge.

Whilst AI continues to unfold new vistas and opportunities for organizations to reimagine and reinvent themselves, what do you see as necessary changes within and outside the organization to create better and sustainable value for all constituents of the ecosystem?

AI is indeed a powerful force that can enable organizations to reimagine and reinvent themselves, but it also requires some changes within and outside the organization to create better and sustainable value for all constituents of the ecosystem. Based on the information I have found on the web, some of the possible changes are:

  • Developing an enterprise-wide AI strategy and vision that aligns with the organization’s mission, values, and goals. This can help the organization prioritize and coordinate its AI initiatives, allocate resources, measure impact, and communicate its value proposition to its stakeholders.
  • Building a culture of innovation and experimentation that encourages employees to explore new possibilities with AI, learn from failures, and share best practices. This can help the organization foster creativity, agility, and collaboration among its teams, as well as attract and retain talent.
  • Investing in training and education for employees to develop their AI skills and knowledge, as well as their soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and ethics. This can help the organization to prepare its workforce for the changing demands of the AI era, as well as to leverage the human-AI synergy.
  • Establishing clear policies and guidelines for the ethical and responsible use of AI in the organization’s activities, products, and services. This can help the organization to ensure compliance, accountability, transparency, and trust with its customers, partners, regulators, and society.
  • Engaging with external stakeholders such as customers, partners, suppliers, competitors, regulators, and society to understand their needs, expectations, and feedback regarding the organization’s AI offerings. This can help the organization to create value propositions that are relevant, beneficial, and acceptable for its ecosystem.

Further, to create better and sustainable value for all constituents of the ecosystem, organizations need to consider several necessary changes both within and outside the organization. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  1. Collaboration and Partnerships: Organizations should foster collaboration with various stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, local communities, and even competitors. By building strong partnerships, organizations can create an ecosystem where all constituents work together towards shared goals, creating value for everyone involved.
  2. Ethical and Responsible AI Development: As AI becomes more ubiquitous, organizations must prioritize ethical considerations in AI development and deployment. Ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in AI algorithms and decision-making processes is crucial. Organizations should adopt clear guidelines and standards that promote responsible AI use.
  3. Employee Empowerment and Reskilling: Organizations should invest in their workforce by providing opportunities for continuous learning and reskilling. As AI technologies evolve, certain job roles may become automated or transformed. By empowering employees with the required skills, organizations can ensure they remain valuable contributors to the organization’s success.
  4. Sustainable Practices: Organizations need to integrate sustainability practices into their operations. This includes adopting environmentally friendly initiatives, reducing waste, minimizing carbon footprint, and promoting social responsibility. Embracing sustainable practices not only benefits the planet but also enhances an organization’s reputation and attractiveness to consumers.
  5. Customer-centric Approach: Organizations should prioritize a customer-centric mindset to understand and meet customers’ evolving needs truly. AI can play a significant role in personalizing customer experiences, providing tailored solutions, and delivering exceptional service. Gathering customer feedback and integrating it into product development is essential to create long-term value.
  6. Regulatory Compliance: As the use of AI expands, regulations and legislative frameworks may develop to address potential risks and challenges. Organizations should proactively stay updated on relevant regulations and comply with them to ensure ethical, legal, and responsible AI practices.
  7. Continuous Innovation: Technological advancement is rapid, so organizations must embrace a culture of continuous innovation. Encouraging employees to think creatively, experiment, and challenge the status quo can help organizations stay ahead of the curve and create new value for their constituents.

By incorporating these changes within and outside the organization, businesses can create a better and more sustainable ecosystem that benefits all stakeholders. Through collaboration, ethical practices, employee empowerment, sustainability, customer-centricity, regulatory compliance, and continuous innovation, organizations can maximize the value they create while ensuring long-term success.


How can organizations fast-track their adaptation of AI through Generative AI? Will this enable a less tech-savvy organization to embrace AI as well? What are the ramifications for technology service providers due to this?

Generative AI can indeed be a valuable tool for organizations to fast-track their adaptation of AI, even for those who may not be tech-savvy. It can create new content, such as text, images, music, code, and more, based on some input or data. Generative AI can help organizations fast-track their adaptation of AI by:

  • Enabling them to generate new and customized products, services, and experiences for their customers, such as personalized recommendations, content, and designs.
  • Enhancing their innovation and creativity by exploring new possibilities, scenarios, and solutions with AI, such as generating new ideas, prototypes, and experiments.
  • Automating and augmenting some of their tasks and processes with AI, such as generating reports, documents, code, and data analysis.
  • Improving their learning and education with AI, such as generating feedback, tutorials, and courses.
  • Quick and Easy Prototyping can rapidly generate prototypes and design iterations, saving time and effort in the product development process. This can help organizations explore AI applications without the need for extensive technical expertise.
  • Enhanced decision-making with large datasets can provide valuable insights that aid in decision-making. This can empower organizations with data-driven strategies, even if they lack deep technical knowledge.

Generative AI can also enable a less tech-savvy organization to embrace AI, as it can lower the barriers and costs of using and developing AI applications. For example, generative AI can:

  • Simplify the user interface and interaction with AI by using natural language or voice input and output.
  • Reduce the need for coding or programming skills by using AI to generate code or scripts from natural language or examples.
  • Minimize the dependence on large or labelled datasets by using AI to generate synthetic or augmented data from small or unlabeled data.

Therefore, organizations and technology service providers need to be proactive and adaptive in leveraging the opportunities and managing the challenges of generative AI. Some of the possible actions that they can take are:

  • Developing a clear strategy and vision for generative AI that aligns with their mission, values, and goals.
  • Building a culture of innovation and experimentation that encourages employees to explore new possibilities with generative AI.
  • Investing in training and education for employees to develop their generative AI skills and knowledge.
  • Establishing clear policies and guidelines for the ethical and responsible use of generative AI in their activities, products, and services.
  • Engaging with external stakeholders such as customers, partners, suppliers, regulators, and society to understand their needs, expectations, and feedback regarding their generative AI offerings.

Overall, generative AI can democratize access to AI technologies and enable less tech-savvy organizations to embrace its benefits. This, in turn, presents opportunities for technology services providers to offer specialized expertise and support for organizations on their AI journey.


Where do you see opportunities for John Keells IT in this space of AI? How do you plan to leverage these emerging opportunities?     

This obviously will create the next inflexion point for John Keells IT since it will unfold a series of opportunities in the space of AI. The spectrum of opportunities that we are looking at ranges from strategy to execution and some key areas include,

  1. AI Consulting and Strategy: Technology services providers can offer consulting services to organizations looking to leverage AI. This includes helping them define AI strategies, identifying relevant use cases, and designing AI roadmaps aligned with their business goals.
  2. AI Development and Implementation: Providers can assist organizations in developing and implementing AI solutions tailored to their specific needs. This involves data preparation, algorithm development, model training, integration with existing systems, and deployment of AI applications.
  3. Data Management and Analytics: With AI heavily relying on data, technology services providers can offer services for data management, including data collection, cleaning, and structuring. Additionally, they can provide advanced analytics capabilities to extract insights from large datasets, allowing organizations to make informed decisions based on AI-generated insights.
  4. Automation and Robotic Process Automation (RPA): By combining AI with automation technologies like RPA, providers can help organizations streamline their processes, improve operational efficiency, and reduce manual effort.
  5. AI Model Monitoring and Maintenance: Once AI models are deployed, ongoing monitoring, fine-tuning, and maintenance are crucial. Providers can offer services to ensure the accuracy, reliability, and efficiency of deployed AI models.

To leverage these emerging opportunities, we need to have a cohesive strategy and a plan to align ourselves to capitalize on these opportunities by,

  1. Develop AI-specific competencies: Invest in building a team of experts with strong knowledge and skills in AI algorithms, technologies, and frameworks.
  2. Stay up-to-date: Continuously monitor advancements in the AI field to stay ahead of the curve and offer clients the latest solutions.
  3. Collaborate and partner: Work with industry leaders, academia, and startups to access cutting-edge research, technologies, and talent.
  4. Offer end-to-end solutions: Provide comprehensive services throughout the entire AI journey, from strategy development to implementation and ongoing support.
  5. Vertical specialization: Develop expertise in specific industries or domains to offer tailored solutions and insights for clients.

Ultimately, our success will depend on our ability to offer holistic AI services, stay agile, and adapt to the evolving AI landscape and be well-positioned to seize the emerging opportunities in this space.