The title of Chief AI Officer will create a new acronym in our business vernacular: the CAIO. This post discusses the organisational design, the role and the skills required to lead AI transformation in your business.

In the coming year or two, I predict the role of Head of AI will become commonplace in enterprise and larger businesses. Increasingly it could become so strategically important that the role gains a seat at the C-suite table. So where do they fit into your organisation?

The enterprise organisation in the years to come will need an AI function akin to HR or Legal; a central function or shared service that manages the enterprise’s AI portfolio and ensure that it is leveraged across the business for full competitive advantage. Decisions will be taken to make or buy AI capability, and will depend on the strategic imperatives — and inherent competitive advantage — of the organisation.

But this post is not about the technology, it’s not even about the technical people (such as data scientists) for whom the talent war is much publicised. This is about finding the leadership talent — the future AI leadership who understand how to build competitive advantage through the shrewd application of AI. They must also have the diplomacy to steer that business through the choppy waters of customer data sensitivity and employees fearing for their job security.

These are difficult and multi-faceted challenges and the AI business leadership profiles are perhaps even scarcer than the technical AI gurus.

So if they are hard to buy in, how do you grow your own future Head of AI?

The clue I would suggest lies in the character. Heads of Innovation are good candidates and I see many emerging from this talent pool. A sought-after role, they are often talented — sometimes mavericks — who have the eye of the board for succession planning. The best know how to leverage modest innovation budgets to trigger larger business unit budgets, and turn Proofs of Concept into true transformation. They are entrepreneurs and big thinkers, and know the importance of bringing the technical ecosystem into the innovation story. But they must also have the corporate politicking and relationship skills to get things done in large organisations. Finally, they have the appreciation of the potential for tech, not down to the level of code, but a thorough grounding in the art of the possible, to manage up the expectations and manage down the technical requirements.

Other job candidates may come from central functions like Operations or HR, or those with a record of managing effective process outsourcing. But those functional skills I suspect will be a less significant guide to success than the sheer strength of personality. They’ll be tested in ways that would be befitting of a future CEO.

In summary, your new Head of AI needs to be part visionary part pragmatist… Get the right talent, and it might be the best hire you ever make.