Remember AI is just another tool: technology leaders’ priorities for 2024

If 2023 was all about excitement over artificial intelligence, 2024 is about realistic expectations. We spoke with five technology leaders about whether the AI hype is justified and what else they will be focusing on for the new year

Tech leaders' Resolutions  for 2024 5 Cto
Charles Eagan 
Chief technology officer, BlackBerry 

We’re seeing a large increase in malicious activity going on, with AI being used to cause malware to continuously morph, so we’ll be continuing to use AI for good and to try to detect that. This year, we are extending our use of predictive AI for more of our portfolio and weaving in some of the benefits of large language models. 

We’re continuing to use AI as a differentiator, but it’s one tool in the tool belt, there are times when it is not the right solution. Nothing really replaces cybersecurity knowledge: understanding the history of cyber attacks and where adversaries might be focusing. The biggest weapon we have against cyber attacks is education – and that means understanding people. 

We have to try to separate the hype from the reality. We want to worry about the issues that are facing us today, not the ones that might be facing us in the future. How do we find the high risk areas and protect them? That’s where I’m focusing my main attention.

Belinda Finch 
Chief information officer, IFS 

This year, I can see us doing the standard stuff with a lot more automation. I’m also always looking for ways to democratise access to IT support, enabling the wider business to do more with technology so they don’t always have to come through us. 

In terms of talent, I’m looking at bringing in a real business partnership skill set. You will always need specific technical skills, but you also need people who understand the technology but really understand the business as well.

Are we using AI? Yes, of course we are. It’s one of those things where it’s a big mistake for any company to ignore it. We’re educating the workforce on how to use AI, we’ve got guidelines and we’ve got training facilities – we are properly embracing it, but with guardrails. I feel like I need to be the conscience as the CIO. I don’t want to be a killjoy or be constantly saying ‘no you can’t you can’t do this’ but nevertheless, one part of my job is to keep everything safe and secure, so I’m inevitably going to be slightly more cautious.

I’m new to IFS, so pre-Christmas was my period to sit and be a sponge. I was learning the business, understanding the people. January is now my time to focus on what we have to do from an IT point of view.

Catriona Wolfenden 
Product and innovation director, Weightmans 

The big technology trend this year seems to be large language models. I think we’re going to see people really trying to find use cases to determine whether they provide the value that everybody thought they would. 

Rather than focus on the tech itself this year, our focus is on making sure colleagues know which bits of tech to use for what – and when to not use it. It’s all about guardrails. The trouble with LLM technology is that it could take away from the lawyer, in terms of their legal research skills and everything they were taught about corroborating sources. Our internal messaging is going to be: if you wouldn’t use Wikipedia to look up the answer, don’t expect the LLM to be correct. It’s there to assist. 

The biggest challenge will be keeping trust in AI and innovation. People need to know that a piece of technology is safe and is going to come back with the right answers. The minute things start hallucinating or giving you dodgy answers, that trust starts to erode. What I’m really concerned about is making sure we can separate these emerging technologies from the more traditional pieces of tech, such as document review software, which we’ve spent years explaining to people and getting them comfortable with. I don’t want the fears about LLMs to override that, so that everybody thinks all new technology is just wizardry and bad.

Stephen Reidy 
Chief information officer, Three 

In 2023, we completed a massive digital transformation project. What we are looking for in 2024 is getting the entire organisation to be more collaborative and more agile, and to take the ways of working from that transformation project and embed it in the wider organisation.

Looking at call centres, AI is a fundamental part of the technology now and so we’re certainly looking at that quite seriously for 2024 in terms of how we can use that to improve the customer experience and help our call centre agents do their jobs more effectively. 

Cybersecurity is always a hot topic, for all industries, but telcos particularly are often a target. We have to keep on top of that and look at evolving our capabilities in that space. You can’t afford to not have it as a priority.

Through our digital transformation, we’ve gone from two tech stacks to one new one. We’ve introduced a lot of new tools and technology and now it’s about making sure we have clean data so we can maximise that from a monetisation perspective. Because of this, we’ve invested hugely in our data analytics team and our data engineering capabilities. 

HR’s role is becoming more complex. If we can use AI to take away some of the more basic tasks, that will then hopefully free people up for some of the more challenging issues. It’s still early days but I think it’s great that we’re exploring the opportunities.

But let’s not also forget about some of the key things an HR operation needs to do. We still need to have our recruitment running smoothly. And we need to provide the business with the talent it needs. The HR operation will be key for businesses in 2024 but, then again, it is always key.

Andy Sturrock 
Chief technology officer, Atom Bank 

Across the industry there is a lot of talk about developer experience and that’s definitely something we want to look at this year.  Our engineers have a pretty good experience and they tend to like working for us, but there’s still too much boilerplate work that they do.

We have a pretty good employee value proposition already and one of the key things is that we do a four-day week. That has been absolutely successful for us. We have very high employee engagement and, at the same time, all of our external metrics (customer numbers, balances, App Store reviews, Trustpilot scores) are trending in the direction we want them to. It’s been hugely successful as a talent attraction and retention factor. We’re definitely not going to go back to five days a week. My big focus for my team now is to really be awesome at hybrid working. 

When it comes to technology, it often feels like people are looking for a silver bullet, some kind of magic. Throughout my career, there’s been no magic. Technology comes from bright people working really hard for a long time and that’s what makes it successful. Maybe AI will prove me wrong, but I don’t think it will. We’re currently on the hype curve. Ultimately, it’ll just be another tool we can use to make our engineers better or the rest of our colleagues more productive or to help our customers. But it’ll be another tool in the toolbox and I just can’t see that it’s going to be the industry’s magic bullet.