Developing an AI Strategy: Best Practices for Business Leaders

Todd Wanek, CEO of Ashley Furniture Industries

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Get ready to start your AI journey in manufacturing! We sat down with industry visionary Todd Wanek, CEO of Ashley Furniture Industries, to get his best practices for developing an AI strategy.

According to Wanek, businesses have 3-5 years to figure out AI, or get left behind. So how do you leverage AI to improve your business? Where should you start? How do you bring your people along on this journey in a way that enables success for all?

Fortunately for us, Ashley Furniture - the world's largest furniture manufacturer with 35,000 employees globally - has already started their AI journey. Their efforts have resulted in a 20-30% improvement in product forecasting accuracy for their 23,000 global retail stores. And now you can learn from their example in this podcast episode.

In this episode, we'll tell you:

  • How AI will impact each business unit, from product forecasting and supply chain to creative services and accounting - and how one AI initiative at Ashley cut down project completion time from 3 months to 3 days.
  • How to know when to use existing AI platforms and when to build your own
  • A step-by-step system to get started with AI, from cleaning up your data to leveraging value stream mapping
  • Why you should have an AI champion in your organization
  • How to identify and enable curious employees and give them space to experiment with AI

"There will be two kinds of companies at the end of this decade: those that are fully utilizing AI, and those that are out of business."

- Peter Diamandis

3 Big Takeaways from this episode:

  1. AI doesn't replace the work; it's a tool to make processes more efficient optimized: Think of artificial intelligence as a lean tool - once you identify areas for improvement, these platforms can eliminate waste in your processes, freeing up your people to do more value-added work.
  2. Before you can implement AI tools, you need to prepare your data and your team: Before you launch that AI initiative, take these steps to ensure your data and people are ready:
    1. Go to the Gemba: By doing this, Ashley identified over 200 projects where AI can benefit the business
    2. Provide exposure and training sessions with senior leadership to ensure they understand, at a basic level, what AI is and how the company will leverage it
    3. Complete a readiness matrix for each department: Ashley's efforts helped them identify which departments are more ready for AI implementation, by asking about culture and mindset, data structures, etc.
    4. Do value stream mapping and use lean tools to clean up and improve your processes: if you put an AI on top of an inefficient process, it will only serve to accelerate chaos
  3. Curiosity is key to the implementation of AI: It's not always the data scientists or IT experts who will be your AI champions. Todd encourages leaders to look for the curious people. Identify those who are existed about AI and take the initiative to find the tools that can improve their own work - then harness their curiosity as you deploy AI in the organization. At the beginning, it's all about curiosity - reading, researching, experimenting and being okay with failure.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Connect with Ashley Furniture online:

Facebook | YouTube | LinkedIn


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