María Balbás, Elev8 President: Why your AI strategy requires talent at its core

The artificial business economy is looming. Many progressive organisations have already begun planning, upskilling, and investing in AI programmes. The greatly increased operational and analytical capabilities are set to revolutionise our ways of working, but there’s something amiss with many organisations’ expectations vs their reality. This, says Elev8 President, María Balbás, is down to a lack of understanding of each organisation’s AI readiness. She explains the dilemma and how to overcome it in this exclusive guest article.

According to a recent report by McKinsey, the uptake of artificial intelligence has doubled in the past five years, with operations optimisation, customer service analytics, and product enhancement among its most common uses. But as businesses adopt new tools to keep pace in the digital economy, many are finding the reality falls short of their vision.

In 2022, 22% of businesses failed to achieve the expected outcomes of their AI applications, as outlined in Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise report. In this underachievement is an important lesson – integrating AI into business processes is not as simple as purchasing a programme; it requires deep cultural and systematic readiness across the company.

AI may not yet be business as usual for all organisations, but it will only pervade further across the economy, across all sectors and into all levels of operations. In the digital era, the companies at the forefront are those seeking to reflect AI’s presence in their corporate structures and equip their workforce with a skillset to match.

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Assessing the Lay of the Land

As digital initiatives top business agendas, competition for tech specialists is fierce, with bidding wars pushing salaries higher. For the 70% of digital leaders who are experiencing major skills shortages (according to Nash Squared) it may be reassuring to hear that most businesses needn’t depend on the cut-throat tech talent market to fuel their AI ambitions. While successfully enhancing business strategy with AI tools requires a digitally skilled workforce, the necessary talent is already latent within most teams and can be brought to the fore with a digital transformation programme.  

Establishing the existing skillset of a workforce is a vital starting point for AI-readiness. The end goals of various staff members will range from basic digital literacy amongst end-point users of no-code tools, to high-level programming competence for software development and customisation.  

A thorough skills audit will reveal the capabilities that are already present in the workforce and those can be developed or taught with digital skilling programmes. Staff with specific AI skills might be identified as potential ambassadors for new initiatives, whilst other team members may be ripe for redeployment in a role better aligned with their digital strengths.  

For instance, a foundation of high-level maths skills provides a strong starting point for a range of technical capabilities. Complex AI applications such as big data analysis – drawing deeply detailed insights from massive, fast moving, and varied data sets – rely on a skillset built around a core understanding of statistics. In other words, good, old-fashioned maths.

Investing in Building Blocks

One core capability to develop within a workforce undertaking AI implementation are programming languages, as the languages used to construct and operate AI tools are plentiful, with diverse applications and functions. Technical staff such as software architects and engineers must ‘speak’ the same language as the AI tools they are working with. Identifying and remedying any skills gaps is a fundamental step in implementing new systems.   

With the growth in availability of low and no-code software options, back-end functions are becoming increasingly accessible to less-technically experienced staff members. To fully capitalise on both off-the-shelf and custom AI programmes, however, team members proficient in several coding languages are an indispensable asset for a business. 

Establishing the existing skillset of a workforce is a vital starting point for AI-readiness.

María Balbás
President, Elev8


Opening the Conversation

While the potential productivity gains from machine learning tools are proven, the uncharted territory of an AI economy continues to breed hesitance amongst decision makers and staff. In fact, a recent study from Stanford University found that a lack of executive commitment is amongst the greatest barriers to organisations starting AI projects.

The skills of programme users and developers are central to the successful implementation of AI tools within a business, but the understanding of other team members also has weight in the transition’s success. Fostering cross-team collaboration through training in power skills such as communication and empathy allows teams to work together to make informed decisions about the applications of AI and unlock the benefits of AI for their organisation.

Business for the AI Economy

The business applications of AI are more than a passing fad. Capitalising on AI-enabled functions will be essential to remain competitive in any sector, but those businesses who chase AI’s benefits and leave their workforce behind risk missing the outcomes they seek. Skilled talent will be fundamental to the success of an AI-driven economy. That change is coming, and there’s no time like the present to get your ducks in a row.


María Balbás
President at Elev8

María is an international executive with broad experience in leading roles in the technology and education industry. She leads growth and expansion plans, bringing innovation and driving exceptional experiences to corporate and government customers to stay ahead of the curve in the rapidly evolving world of cutting-edge technologies and the future of work.

María has extensive experience in developing international corporate & government relationships and developing partnerships with big tech and top renowned education Institutions.  She is also an advisor on integral business solutions to meet the specific needs of organizations and support them in bridging the tech talent gap.

Additionally, María is a certified executive coach and a career counselling and EdTechs mentor. She is a specialist and speaker in women’s leadership and women in technology, having designed and implemented top programs in Europe (under the sponsorship of the European Union), the Americas and Africa.