How to navigate AI’s disruptive wave: practical insights for the C-suite

How to navigate AI’s disruptive wave: practical insights for the C-suite

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is threatening to revolutionise industries at an unprecedented pace. For executives and company directors, leveraging AI is no longer optional but essential to staying relevant and competitive. This article explores the latest AI developments, providing practical insights to navigate AI’s disruptive wave.

Key Takeaways

  • Early adoption is key
  • Prioritise ethical data governance
  • Focus on workforce development
  • Recognise the critical strategic dimension

In 2021, SA Power Networks, faced the challenge of maintaining grid reliability amid rising renewable energy integration. The company turned to AI to address this issue. By deploying advanced AI algorithms, they analysed data from thousands of smart meters and sensors across their network.

“We needed a solution that could predict equipment failures before they happened,” explained then CEO, Rob Stobbe. The AI system identified potential faults and optimised maintenance schedules, improving grid reliability by 25%. This reduced power outages and ensured smoother integration of renewable energy.

The initiative not only enhanced service reliability but also supported South Australia’s renewable energy goals. Stobbe noted, “AI has been a game-changer in how we manage and maintain our grid.”

Must we engage with AI now?

While SA Power Networks has made productive use of AI, executives in many organisations continue to ask, “Do we need to engage with AI now or can it wait?”

Stephen King, a commissioner at the Productivity Commission, suggests that Australia is “probably at the top of the (AI) hype cycle,” noting that “it takes a long time for any technology to work its way through the system so that businesses are transformed”. Some of the application timeframes that people are talking about are “way too short”.

But while executives are moving cautiously their staff are jumping in with both feet, demonstrating some of the highest rates of adoption in the world, despite the lack of company-endorsed guardrails [1].

Recent AI trends and developments

Over the past 12 months, major investments have fueled significant advances in AI technology. Generative AI models, such as OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Google’s Bard, have substantially improved, providing higher quality text, images, and video content. Businesses are exploring the use of these models to generate marketing materials, draft emails, and personalise customer experiences.

Multimodal AI models now process and integrate multiple types of data, such as text, images, and audio. These new models can analyse medical images and patient records simultaneously or assist in 24/7 customer service, where AI-powered chatbots understand and respond to both text and voice inputs.

On the autonomous vehicle front, companies like Tesla and Waymo have advanced their technologies, bringing them closer to fully autonomous driving capabilities. At the same time, banks and other financial institutions are expanding their AI applications to achieve greater protections against cyberattacks and fraud [2,3].


Investing in AI's disruptive wave


Most impactful AI applications

The rate of AI technology adoption is growing across all sectors. Bounded, repeatable tasks are those likely to be impacted first and, over time, most extensively.

Predictive maintenance has been one valuable application in Australian industry. For example, Rio Tinto is using AI to analyse data from its heavy equipment fleet, reducing downtime by up to 20% by predicting equipment failures and scheduling maintenance proactively.

BHP uses autonomous haul trucks that operate 24/7, reducing the need for human drivers and increasing productivity by eliminating downtime for shift changes.

Of course, the installation of sensors, smart meters, and other internet-of-things (IoT) devices is essential to providing the ongoing stream of data required for these applications. AI is enormously data (and energy) hungry.


Increasing rate of AI adoption


Emerging developments to watch

Over the next few years, several key AI developments may significantly impact business and government alike:

1. Advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) will enable more sophisticated and context-aware interactions, enhancing customer service and communication channels [4].

2. Autonomous systems, including self-driving cars and industrial machines, will improve efficiency and safety across various sectors [5].

3. AI-enhanced cybersecurity will become crucial in detecting and mitigating cyber threats in real-time [6].

4. Predictive analytics will provide deeper insights and more accurate forecasts, optimising operations in finance, healthcare, and supply chain management [7].

5. AI-driven personalisation will tailor experiences to individual preferences, increasing engagement and satisfaction [8].

These advancements can unlock operational efficiency opportunities. But they will also drive business model innovation and disrupt value chains. Business leaders must therefore keep on eye on the second and third order consequences or ripple effects of AI applications. Better still, clever leaders will be on the front foot, imagining and tapping into the value-creating opportunities that will emerge.


Advanced computing applications


Important insights

1. Early movers gain competitive advantages

Early adopters of AI enjoy the opportunity of building and leveraging extensive datasets, crucial for training effective AI models. This leads to more accurate insights and better decision-making. AI applications can be tested and refined sooner, addressing potential issues, and optimising performance ahead of competitors. This can confer a massive market advantage as digital products are readily offered to global (not just local) markets. Early adoption also facilitates skill development within the organisation, preparing the workforce to leverage AI technologies [9].

2. Good data governance is crucial

The old adage “crap in, crap out” is as relevant to AI as it is to conventional computer models. Given that AI models are also difficult to interrogate, the need for quality input data may be more critical.

Effective data governance is necessary to ensure high-quality, accurate, and reliable data for AI training. Attention must also be paid to bias in training data sets, as well as privacy, transparency, intellectual property and other issues of ethical data use.

AI requires more and different forms of data, more frequent maintenance, more rigorous oversight – and is usually far less deterministic, less transparent and less explicable than other systems.
Nicholas Davis, UTS Professor of Emerging Technology

2. Skillful leadership is required

Adopting AI requires skillful leadership to navigate uncertainties and fears alongside technical and operational issues. Leaders should address concerns through transparent communication, pursing AI applications that enhance, not replace, human roles.

Investing in training programs will equip employees with the necessary skills to work alongside AI, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Involving employees in the AI adoption process can mitigate resistance and promote buy-in.


Practical actions to navigate AI's disruptive wave


Practical actions to navigate AI’s disruptive wave

There are four areas in which the Board and management team should be leading practical action now.

1. Start with small projects

Identify areas for quick wins, such as analysing customer or staff feedback or predictive maintenance. Pilot projects can demonstrate AI’s value and build confidence in the organisation, minimising risks and allowing for learning and scaling gradually.

Implementation tips:

  • Select a few projects that invite engagement from different functional areas of the business.
  • Set clear, measurable objectives for each project and AI application, which can be objectively verified.
  • Select projects that, if successful, could offer significant opportunities to scale up application and benefits.
  • Celebrate learning, sharing and using lessons learned to refine future AI initiatives.

2. Invest in skills and culture

A well-versed workforce can better integrate and leverage AI tools, mitigating fears of job displacement and enhancing productivity. This includes executives and directors, who many have as many questions as junior team members.

So, upskilling employees through training programs and hiring AI talent should occur, preferably in an environment where the organisation’s AI goals are transparently communicated.

Implementation Tips:

  • Host workshops and training sessions to demystify AI, or tap into freely available introductions like those offered by CSIRO.
  • Develop training programs focused on AI fundamentals and specific applications relevant to your business.
  • Partner with industry bodies and educational institutions to better leverage your investment.
  • Include AI skills in the development plans for all staff.

3. Establish strong data governance

As our organisations are becoming “digital by design”, data governance requires oversight at the highest level. Complement operational data management with board oversight, attending to ethical and customer concerns alongside regulatory compliance, data integrity and security.

Implementation Tips:

  • Define data governance policies that address data quality, security, and compliance.
  • Establish data governance team to oversee data management practices.
  • Use data management tools to monitor and maintain data integrity.

4. Don’t forget business strategy!

The “AI tail” shouldn’t wag the dog. AI is a tool, which you need to use to get important jobs done. The board and executive should be judicious in discerning these jobs and where to invest alongside other pressing priorities.

AI is also a transformational technology. Together with other digital technologies, AI is acting like a glue connecting transformations occurring in energy, transport, food and materials technologies. These will reshape industries and economies over the medium term, requiring thoughtful strategic attention now.


Artificial Intelligence is not just a technological advancement; it is a transformative force reshaping industries across the globe. For executives and company directors, understanding AI trends, developments, and practical applications is crucial for staying ahead in a competitive landscape. By embracing early adoption, investing in data governance, and prioritising workforce development, organisations can effectively navigate AI’s disruptive wave and ensure sustained growth and innovation. As AI continues to evolve, leaders must stay informed and strategically integrate these technologies to drive operational efficiency and create long-term value for their stakeholders.


Q: In what ways do you see AI transforming your business operations over the next five years? Is your organisation giving enough attention to the strategic dimension?



[1] Steph D’Souza (2024) Working with AI, Company Director, Volume 40, Issue 4, June 2024