Business Productivity

IT leadership and generative AI: Today’s challenges and opportunities

The average employee jumps between 6-8 different software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications each day. SaaS applications have become indispensable tools for organizations of all sizes. However, as the adoption of SaaS applications proliferates, IT and security teams find themselves grappling with a new set of challenges that threaten to undermine the very benefits these tools are meant to provide.

At the core of this predicament lies the fragmentation of data across numerous software tools, each with its own security protocols, access controls, and data schemas. This digital clutter not only hinders seamless collaboration and integration, but also creates opportunity to introduce security risks across an organization. Data silos emerge, exposing organizations to the risks of unauthorized access, data loss, and compliance violations – a top concern for any IT leader, or business leader, where data privacy and security are paramount.

Compounding these challenges is the unrelenting pressure to rapidly implement new artificial intelligence-powered tools and functionalities often with little oversight, guidance, or resources.

In this blog post, we share key insights from The Work Innovation Lab, a cutting-edge think tank from Asana. Asana is a work management platform, an AWS Partner, and supported application of AWS AppFabric.

IT Leaders at the helm of transformation

IT leaders are no longer just overseers of technology implementation; they are the strategic visionaries, guiding their organizations toward a future where technology and business strategy merge into one coherent, dynamic force.

According to Asana’s research, an overwhelming 77% of IT leaders see themselves at the forefront of this transformation, bearing the responsibility of leading AI initiatives. This is no small feat, considering the rapid pace at which AI is evolving. In just six months, more than half (53%) of these IT leaders report an increased demand for their advice on AI strategies—a reflection of AI’s growing, pivotal role in shaping the future of our businesses.

Figure 1: Insights from over 1,200 IT professionals show the increasingly strategic role of IT leaders and the business-critical areas they are asked to advise on.

Figure 1: Insights from over 1,200 IT professionals show the increasingly strategic role of IT leaders and the business critical areas they are asked to advise on.

The challenges along the way

Yet, with great power comes great responsibility—and significant challenges. The evolution is fraught with obstacles, from bloated technology stacks to the pressure to adopt AI solutions without appropriate guidance and strategic clarity. Asana’s “State of the IT Leader” report highlights four main challenges:

  1. Digital clutter and fragmented technology stacks: The quest for high productivity and ultimate collaboration has led to the accumulation of redundant tools across departments, leaving some organizations with a technology stack that hinders rather than helps. A striking 63% of IT executives now regret not being more judicious in their technology choices, recognizing the need for a more streamlined and effective technology stack.
  2. Data silos and security concerns: The foundation of effective AI implementation is robust, secure data. Yet, many organizations grapple with sprawling technology stacks that compromise data integrity. This poses a significant challenge for IT leaders, who must ensure their data landscapes are not only conducive to AI but also fortified against security threats.
  3. Pressure to implement AI tools: IT leaders face mounting pressure to integrate AI solutions, often without the necessary support structures in place—such as AI-specific budgets or connected data sources to power AI. The rush toward AI adoption, coupled with cost-cutting measures and productivity mandates, adds another layer of complexity to their roles.
  4. Resource constraints: Despite the clear imperative to embrace AI, many IT leaders find themselves hamstrung by a lack of dedicated funding. With only 14% of organizations setting aside a specific budget for AI, the path forward is both uncertain and challenging.

The skills for today’s IT Leaders

In the face of these challenges, Asana’s report outlines a set of skills essential for IT leaders to navigate the AI era:

Strategic Business Advisors

The most effective IT leaders are those who align their initiatives with the broader organizational goals, acting not just as technologists but as strategic business advisors. This alignment ensures that technology serves the business, not the other way around.

“With the rapid evolution of AI, the role of the CIO and IT executives has fundamentally changed. Today’s IT leaders are responsible for intelligent transformation – ensuring that data is connected across technology investments, building the right foundation to deploy AI safely and securely.” Saket Srivastava, CIO of Asana

Educators and evangelists

With 82% of IT leaders reporting an increase in requests for advice on their organization’s AI strategy over the past six months, IT leaders play a critical role in educating and advocating for the strategic implementation of AI technologies. They need to be experts in the technical aspects of AI but also be able to communicate its business value.

Architect of a streamlined technology ecosystem

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of IT leaders regret not selecting technologies more carefully, acknowledging that their past technology investments haven’t driven their business forward as expected. The mantra of “less is more” has never been more relevant. IT leaders must curate their technology stacks with a discerning eye, focusing on tools that offer integration, scalability, and a positive digital employee experience.

Guardian of data security and compliance

With only 25% of IT leaders feeling confident that their internal data is ready for AI applications, IT leaders need to prioritize data security and compliance. As custodians of the organization’s data infrastructure, IT leaders must prioritize security and compliance, navigating the complex web of regulatory requirements to ensure that AI implementations are both effective and ethically sound.

“Within the tangled web of digital tools and processes, the IT leader’s role has emerged as critical in the crucial quest toward simplicity and efficiency. AWS AppFabric—a service that connects multiple SaaS applications— focuses on enhancing the tools employees use to get work done. Today’s workers often find themselves navigating through too many disconnected tool stacks, resulting in a fragmented digital employee experience. With standardized schemas and AI-driven capabilities, AppFabric removes point-to-point integration burdens and enhances an organization’s security posture, while employees leverage generative AI to enhance productivity.” Federico Torreti, Head of Product for AWS AppFabric

Human-centric AI leadership

Nearly half (46%) of IT leaders say they plan to choose their next company based on whether it employs a human-centered AI approach. At the heart of AI’s promise is the augmentation of human capabilities, not their replacement. IT leaders must champion a human-in-the-loop approach, recognizing the irreplaceable value of human insight and intuition in the AI-powered organization.

The next-generation IT leader

As generative AI use cases continue to evolve, the challenges facing IT leaders are significant but far outweighed by the opportunities that lie ahead. By embracing the essential skills outlined in this blog post and using services like AWS AppFabric, IT leaders can navigate the complexities of digital transformation while keeping data secure and information protected from bad actors.

Want to hear from experts on how they’re adapting to this changing landscape? Join us and Johan Dowdy, Global Head of IT and Security at Asana in an upcoming webinar to learn how 77% of IT leaders are leading work transformations with AI. Register now.

Rebecca Hinds

Rebecca Hinds

Rebecca Hinds is the Head of The Work Innovation Lab by Asana, a first-of-its-kind think tank that conducts actionable research to help leaders and businesses navigate the growing challenges and changes of work. Rebecca earned a Ph.D. at Stanford University, focusing her research on the transformation of organizations through emergent technologies like AI and non-traditional work forms such as hybrid and remote work. Her research and insights have appeared in publications including Harvard Business Review, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Wired, TechCrunch, and Inc. Passionate about a data-driven future of work, Rebecca frequently advises companies on developing remote work, hybrid work, and technology strategies, emphasizing a data-first and human-centric approach.

Brian Lozada

Brian Lozada

Brian Lozada is the Director of Games, Media & Entertainment Security at Amazon. He has more than 15 years of experience developing and maintaining information security programs for some of the world’s top brands. Prior to joining Amazon, he served as a CISO at HBO Max. Previously, he served as Chief Information Security Officer at Zocdoc and Condé Nast, Worldwide Manager of Information Security at Sony Music Entertainment, and headed information security at Vonage. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Security and a Master of Science in Homeland Security from Monmouth University. He also holds a Master of Business Administration from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and is a certified CISSP.