Top News / March 28, 2024

How to Succeed in Business With AI on Your Side

Artificial intelligence is transforming business and the way people work. To succeed in this new world, you’ll have to embrace AI. And that means everyone – not just those in tech jobs – will need to know how to work with AI.

“Every employer out there is talking about AI,” says Balaji Padmanabhan, Dean's Professor of Decisions, Operations & Information Technologies at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “They are really looking to bring people in who can help them with this.”

The Washington, D.C., region and many other regions outside of the tech epicenter of California are quickly rising in their share of job postings requiring skills in AI, according to the new UMD-LinkUp AI Maps jobs tracker developed by Smith professors Anil Gupta, Siva Viswanathan and Kunpeng Zhang. You can use the tool to find where the jobs are, but you’ll need the right skills to land them. 

That’s where business schools come in.

At the Smith School, we’re giving students what they need to stand out to employers looking for AI skills.

Here’s how to thrive with AI for the future of work:

  • Embrace the technology. Companies that don’t use AI will fall behind. It’s too risky to not understand how to work with AI, no matter what area of business you want to go into. At Smith, nearly 40 faculty members – in every discipline – are churning out new AI research and using both their findings and the technology in the classroom with students. Smith Professor Sean Cao is writing the textbook on how to use AI in accounting and finance, and because it’s so important to learn he’s making it available for free as part of Smith’s AI Initiative for Capital Market Research. In addition, professors Wendy Moe, Liye Ma, Kunpeng Zhang, and Wedad Elmaghraby work closely with companies such as Amazon, Deloitte and Meta on AI-related initiatives and translate those experiences into the classroom. And professor P.K. Kannan’s executive education initiatives in AI are making inroads with more companies.
  • Know how to work with it. You don’t have to be a tech person, but you do have to make an effort to understand the technology. At Smith, we just introduced a new MBA specialization in AI and business strategy. It has a series of courses that cover the foundations of AI, governance, applications and design of artificial intelligence. Students learn to critically dissect AI’s capabilities, and then use this understanding to explore its business applications, appreciate the importance of ethics and responsible use, think through “return on investment” both in the short- and long-term horizons, discuss AI’s direct and second-order impacts (including putting unintended consequences front and center), and collectively explore what the future of work itself might look like. The specialization is great for students with tech backgrounds who want to round out their problem-solving and management skills, and also for those with managerial backgrounds who want to learn more about the technical and business foundations of AI, says Padmanabhan, emphasizing that there will be plenty of jobs related to AI for both types of students.
  • Use business-centric thinking. Jobs that are easily automated with AI will likely disappear, but many new types of jobs will be created. That’s the central theme of Smith professor Roland Rust’s book “The Feeling Economy: How AI is Creating an Era of Empathy,” in which he says workers who have the best intuition, empathy, creativity and people skills will thrive. That means students who have the problem-solving and return-on-investment business mindset, as well as the knowledge of what AI is and how it can help, will be tremendously attractive in the marketplace, says Padmanabhan. “A big component of this is thinking business-centric,” he says. “It’s about going after the right set of problems or opportunities through an informed, design-centric lens that prioritizes returns on investment and long-term value.” That requires being smart about choosing the right problems, being very intentional about how you design, develop and deploy AI in business, allowing both the AI-first and People-first mindsets to mingle, and having great clarity on how to measure effectiveness. “These are all highly non-trivial to do, and is where business school thinking can pay a lot of dividends for companies and policy makers as well today,” he says.
  • Recognize AI’s flaws and manage risks. That means creating governance mechanisms that can manage AI risks without excessively curbing AI’s potential for transformation. Now that we all know more about how AI works, feigning ignorance about problems just isn’t an option anymore, and there’s absolutely no excuse for the misuse of AI. “When an organization deploys AI in any manner, and then later on realizes there is an unintended consequence, you simply cannot use the ‘we didn’t know this might happen’ excuse any longer,’” says Padmanabhan. Companies have to have a good governance process in place and think about how to design AI applications to get the best that the tech can offer while mitigating the downsides – the main topic of the Smith School’s recent AI Symposium on Design and Governance with industry leaders and academics. That also means finding and fixing flaws quickly. For example, Smith Professor Lauren Rhue’s research found racial bias in facial recognition software that analyzed emotions. Her findings and other similar research pushed Microsoft to remove emotion-detecting features from its facial recognition software.

Business school graduates will have an enormous opportunity to shape the future of work with AI, and that starts now.

“One of the big opportunities is thinking of how work itself – every single person, every single task within a business – can be transformed using smart humans with an AI friend,” Padmanabhan says. And sometimes that requires thinking about what starting with a clean slate today might look like - an exercise that by itself can unlock tremendous value.

The AI-future is here for all businesses, perhaps a little sooner than we thought, but life doesn’t come with an undo button to buy us any more time to figure things out. The time is indeed very much NOW to equip ourselves with the understanding and thinking that can help shape this future.

Learn more about how the Smith School's robust research enterprise explores the capabilities of AI and how we're preparing our students for the future of business.

Learn More: AI at Smith

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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