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Johan Jegerajan

CTO for Consulting, PwC UK and EMEA

It is time for businesses to develop a clear vision for how they can scale the applications of generative AI that will deliver truly transformative benefits.

Business leaders appear to have satisfied themselves with the transformative potential of generative AI (GenAI). The PwC CEO Survey found that 64% of UK business leaders believe GenAI will increase the efficiency of their workforce, 57% say it will improve products and services, and 45% say it will increase both revenue and profitability.

Realising combined GenAI benefits

Combined, such outcomes can represent a step change in the fortunes of any business. However, turning that potential into realised value cannot be achieved solely through the kinds of serial trials and discrete use cases that many businesses have been exploring.

Business leaders must identify which applications of GenAI have the most transformative potential, then focus their strategy and investment on scaling those, says Johan Jegerajan, Chief Technology Officer for PwC’s Consulting arm in the UK and EMEA.

From potential to transformative impact

PwC is using GenAI to unlock value for clients across industries, delivering efficiency gains and increasing productivity, but also helping to transform how they create value for their customers, employees and shareholders.

Examples include powering faster, more effective decision-making in business-critical areas such as tax, legal and compliance. The technology can help experts quickly analyse huge bodies of text and data, such as contracts and legal and regulatory documents. They can interrogate that content, validate the outcomes and act quickly, reducing the need for painstaking human review.

Jegerajan explains: “We are putting incredibly powerful technologies into the hands of humans in a way that means they can solve problems at a speed they never thought possible.” This doesn’t remove the critical importance of a highly trained expert overseeing the inputs and outputs of GenAI, but it does make that expert far better equipped to create value.

“It’s like having a really smart colleague, sitting on your desktop, who can find important information, make suggestions, perform analysis and create first drafts — all with exceptional speed,” says Jegerajan. “That frees you up to focus on how that information can create value for you and your clients or customers.”

Creating new growth opportunities

Beyond augmenting the skills and capabilities of the workforce, other transformative use cases increasingly draw upon the role of GenAI in delivering a more hyper-personalised customer experience and the new revenue opportunities that creates.

“Initially, there has been a significant focus on efficiency and productivity and those use cases are compelling,” says Jegerajan. “But, as businesses look at which use cases will create the greatest long-term value, we start talking about business model reinvention and genuinely transformative applications that don’t just tackle existing tasks more quickly but create new growth opportunities that will deliver more revenue, more value to customers and take more market share.”

Jegerajan says businesses that are not looking to scale the most transformative uses of GenAI risk falling behind.

The power of shared experience

Such claims may be commonplace when it comes to businesses talking up the potential of emerging technologies. That is why PwC is focused on ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk.’

The firm positions itself as ‘client zero,’ meaning it has adopted GenAI throughout its own organisation and is basing its recommendations to clients on a solid foundation of firsthand experience.

The firm has been working extensively with AI for over a decade and has integrated a number of AI tools across its business. Last year, as part of an ‘AI for All’ strategy planned to put AI tools into the hands of all staff, it rolled out its own GenAI tool called ‘ChatPwC’. That gives its employees access to a private, secure GenAI platform that keeps the firm’s data separate from public large language models. Currently, over 15,000 of its UK employees have been set up with GenAI skills and tools.

Without an ethical lens on applications of GenAI,
the upsides can quickly become downsides.

Navigating GenAI risks responsibly

Jegerajan says: “By talking our clients through our own journey, taking the learnings from how we are using GenAI ourselves, we are able to more quickly cut through the noise about GenAI and some lingering concerns around the technology.”

Establishing such credibility means also being equipped to talk to clients about the risks which come with GenAI, and the critical steps needed to assure and secure the data being used.

“Embedding GenAI into business transformation comes with its own risks,” says Jegerajan. “Not least how trusted the outputs can be. We have been focused on responsible AI for many years, and we continue to work with technology partners, regulators and policymakers to drive this discussion forward. Ethics, responsibility and trust must sit at the heart of any use of GenAI; you need to know the data is secure and cannot be breached or controlled by threat actors.”

A foundation for long-term success

Much of the work the firm does with clients starts with building a foundation for the effective long-term use of GenAI, which will enable any use case to scale. That work is critical to moving GenAI from tactical, discreet use cases to a core component of ongoing transformation.

This includes ensuring the right data and cloud infrastructure are in place to power GenAI. However, as Jegerajan says: “For many organisations, the modernisation of their technology infrastructure is still in flight. We are seeing the acceleration of many cloud and data transformation programmes in response to the potential of GenAI, with leading organisations defining the value they want to derive from the technology and using that to inform a refined data strategy.”

Yet, Jegerajan says responsibility is as much an essential building block of those foundations. “Without trust, all of that transformative potential is weakened. Without an ethical lens on applications of GenAI, the upsides can quickly become downsides, mired in regulatory and reputational damage.”

Upskilling for GenAI success

According to the PwC CEO Survey, nearly two-thirds of UK business leaders say they expect to reskill most of their workforce within the next three years to capitalise on GenAI. As already identified, there is huge value to be created from empowering skilled employees to augment the work they do with GenAI.

Adoption is clearly vital to achieve that value, so, as businesses put tools in the hands of their people, it will be important to monitor usage to understand the volume and nature of adoption. Engaging skilled employees is also essential to ensure GenAI is used with the necessary expert human oversight, providing high-quality critical thinking, logic and governance.

A foundation for ongoing change

“While in many contexts, GenAI has the power to astound, it is still a long way from providing the answer to every business problem,” says Jegerajan. “It remains fallible, and its capabilities in complex logical reasoning and real-world understanding are very nascent. Companies therefore need to apply the technology with these limitations in mind, and an awareness of the oversight their people need to provide in areas such as identifying hallucinations and proactively addressing the risk of bias.”

Ultimately, these many threads to transformative GenAI success rely upon collaboration — bringing together those who understand the technology and those who understand the business, its customers and the environment it operates in, including risk and regulation.

Alongside the right technology, and an approach built around responsibility and ethics, the ability to draw upon those multiple perspectives will be a vital building block for the future. “Organisations don’t just need to think about how they change,” says Jegerajan. “They need to think about how they are set up to keep changing, again and again. Transformation is not an event; it is an ongoing process.”

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