GenAI takes centre stage at Enterprise Forum

Joanne Carew
By Joanne Carew, ITWeb Cape-based contributor.
Johannesburg, 06 Feb 2024
Delegates at the just-ended Enterprise Forum discussed the implications of deploying GenAI on business.
Delegates at the just-ended Enterprise Forum discussed the implications of deploying GenAI on business.

Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) took centre stage in 2023 and if the CIOs and IT executives attending the Enterprise Forum, held in Cape Town last week, are to be believed, this technology is only set to become more powerful and pervasive in 2024.

BCX, in collaboration with ITWeb Brainstorm, hosted the Enterprise Forum focused on tech innovation in business on 1 February in Cape Town.

Lungile Mginqi, group CIO at Sasol and Enterprise Forum chairman, started his welcome address by confessing that he had actually used ChatGPT earlier in the day to help him reword – and soften – an angry e-mail he had written.

While attendees agreed that GenAI can add value for businesses of all sizes and across all industries, they also acknowledged the potential risks associated with the technology; highlighting the critical need for AI-related policies and guardrails to ensure that is it deployed with care.

“Is it an anchor or is it a sail?” asked event MC and MD for Third Stage Consulting for EMEA, Clifford Martin.

Stefan Steffen, executive for data insights and intelligence at BCX, believes it is the latter.

Modern enterprises have no choice but to adopt this technology, he said, pointing out that doing so successfully demands that businesses make intentional investments that align with their broader goals. Businesses also need to be willing shift company culture and bring in different types of skills to leverage this technology effectively.

“I think there is a significant opportunity but also a major threat if we don’t put the right strategies, regulations and policies in place,” he said.

This risk/opportunity conundrum explains why there is still so much reluctance around AI, said Nathan-Ross Adams, an associate for AI, data and technology at Michalsons.

According to Adams, there are currently three different approaches to AI. Some choose to ignore it and have banned the use of applications like ChatGPT because they believe that the risks associated with this tech are simply too high.

Others have adopted a tentative approach; embracing AI but with certain safeguards in place that outline key do’s and don’ts.

“Finally, there are the businesses that are jumping all in with the attitude that they’ll figure out how to handle the situation should something go wrong,” he said, adding that none of these strategies are wholly right or wholly wrong.

“Whatever you choose to do, it is key to understand the potential use cases for your specific business and ensure that you have the necessary governance and compliance frameworks in place,” he said.

“When it comes to AI, there is a very real need for engagement on a multi-disciplinary level because AI isn’t only the responsibility of the CIO or CTO because it affects all areas of the business.”

A matter of ethics

According to Dr Dirk Brand, independent legal consultant and a senior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch’s School for Public Leadership, unleashing the potential of AI cannot be done without thinking about how the model is developed and trained, what data is used to train it and what impact it could have on broader society. Issues of fairness and bias, privacy and responsibility must also be considered.

“Who decides how we get to use AI and what kind of decisions it can and can’t make? These questions need to be answered,” he said.

Understanding the risks is made more complicated by the fact that this tech is changing all the time, stated Tim Parle, chief director for the digital economy at Western Cape Government, adding that technology moves exponentially but legal and regulatory systems move incrementally. And the impacts of a technology like this cannot be easily predicted until it is widely used, he continued

“This is the dilemma that so many of us face when it comes to AI – what do you do and when do you do it?”

Whatever you decide, Dino Bernicchi, AI strategy consultant at AI Strategy Consulting, stressed that it should not be seen as a source of truth.

Describing GenAI as a really smart co-worker who has taken the time to read everything on the Internet, he explained that businesses can trust technology but must “always remember to test” the results.

So, is it an anchor or a sail? One attendee commented that it is neither – it is the wind propelling every aspect of our lives forward.

As such, Dan Southwood-Wells, co-founder of the EskomSePush app, believes that AI is a disruptor that no business can afford to ignore. “Hope is not a strategy. AI is here. Rather get in front of it or run the risk of being left behind.”