How to be a credible PR voice in the AI-powered business environment

This post is by Kerry Sheehan, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), Chair of the CIPR’s global Artificial Intelligence in PR panel, and a Southampton Data Science Academy graduate. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@PRKezza).

The mandate of any new chief executive at an organisation/business, I believe, is innovation – no longer transformation. How do you innovate? You look for process-driven areas you can automate and deploy artificial intelligence in, helping your business/clients to work smarter faster and be your intelligent assistant with insights etc.

But how can we best advise and input into whether this is the correct strategy for our businesses/clients? How do we build profiles and profits, while safeguarding against the potential crisis risks AI can bring, if we don’t know all the ins and outs of data and AI? This is even before we get to machine learning.

I wanted to take a data and AI course to get to the real detail of how you would roll out AI at a business. However, there are so many options that it's difficult to know which one is effective and has real kudos. It’s a minefield!

That’s when I came across the Dame Wendy Hall-backed Southampton Data Science Academy AI and Machine Learning for Business course. Completed online over six weeks, there are weekly individual and group tutorials and opportunities to interact with the other students in the cohort.

Professor Dame Wendy, one of the world’s leading computer scientists, helped write the UK Government’s inaugural report on AI, which led to the creation of the Office for AI. Professor Hall is a leading figure in the UK on the development of AI technologies, including on the discussions around AI and ethics.

Wendy Hall

Dame Wendy Hall

The course, put together by InfoNation, was superb. Challenging, but worth it. I now feel confidently equipped to go into any boardroom or management meeting and speak with authority on what the organisation/client needs to have in place for AI deployment and what kinds of areas it could be effective in.

AI and Machine Learning for Business cuts through the technical jargon that is often associated with these subjects. It delivers a simple and concise introduction for managers and business people. The focus is very much on practical application, and how to work with technical specialists (data scientists) to maximize the benefits of these technologies.

Before I started my six-week steep learning curve, I thought I had fairly good knowledge on data and AI. However, week one on the online course – which involves a few hours of short, snappy video lectures that are easy to watch and digest – I quickly realised my knowledge was ‘mainstream’. I was going on a much-needed journey to acquire the skills and expertise to take me to the next level and beyond.

The Southampton Data Academy course did just that. Week one was a general introduction to AI and then as the weeks went by, the course did get harder, but it took me on a journey from:

  • Understanding what data an organisation may hold
  • What data needs to be considered to make deploying AI possible
  • What an organisation's computational power currently is
  • What would be needed to ensure it could effectively support AI
  • How to put together an AI heat map for an organisation, which would suffice as part of any executive business case for AI deployment.

Every week, there is a small recap on the previous week’s learning and throughout you put together essay reports of around 1000 words (deliberately a low word-count to ensure key learning points are covered tightly). This embeds your learning and builds up to the final report, the business case for AI roll-out at your organisation, business or client.

Throughout the no-nonsense course, you are using real life examples of areas at the place you work/advise for AI roll out, which really does bring it all to life.

The weekly individual tutorials are fantastic and very flexible to work around your time constraints. They point you in the right direction, answer any further queries and go over that week’s learning. They're fun too, as Dr Robert Blair is an inspiring and down to earth tutor who really encourages you to do well.

Rob Blair

Dr Rob Blair

The added bonus of the course is that there are plenty of opportunities to engage with other people, as at the end of most modules there are discussion forums. I found these really helpful as the other participants had different points of views, coming from a range of professions such as accountancy, customer service, and banking. I learnt a huge deal from them I will always be grateful for (and picked up some great contacts!).

After taking the Southampton Data Science Academy course, you'll have a mastery of the concepts and future directions of artificial intelligence and machine learning. You'll be able to make more informed decisions and contributions in your work environment.

But, with any course it wasn’t all plain sailing for me. I did find the latter week’s online lectures challenging and did rewind and pause on many occasions to make sure I fully understood the history and learning on data, its challenges, acquiring data, and AI processes.

And, when I got to the final week’s report - putting together the business case on AI roll out, creating an AI heat map for the organisation was challenging and a first for me. It's a skill I can now take forward and understand, whether in my own role or when working with data scientists and tech people, which is a real confidence boost.

As communications professionals, we are in places of big responsibility. For the employees we provide internal communications/workforce engagement to and for customers, stakeholders and the public to adopt AI and realise its benefits, relies heavily on ethical and transparent communications and engagement.

As PR is a strategic management function, we just have to know about data and AI. I now feel I can confidently and credibly advise and help implement AI tools, processes and services.

Was the course challenging, hard? Too right it was. But it is right that it is – as it really does set you out from the rest and gives you the competitive edge and the confidence needed in the AI arena to be able to advise AI-savvy businesses and clients or even those, including small start-ups, who could be looking at what and where they can deploy AI for the first time.

Dame Wendy Hall and InfoNation are very supportive of communication professionals up-skilling in data and AI, as our function is key to helping businesses, clients and start-ups succeed in the age of AI. I was absolutely thrilled when my certificate arrived from Dame Wendy Hall, with a mark of 70. The pass rate was 40.

It’s no secret, as an industry, we have never been good at adopting any tech innovation, let alone tech innovation at scale. That must stop now. To be able to compete with the other Chartered professions, sending their staff en-masse on these kinds of courses to ensure they are up-skilled and prepared, we have to be too, or we risk getting left behind.

I didn’t want that! I now have a lovely certificate from Dame Wendy Hall to prove ‘mastery’ in the fundamentals of data, AI and machine learning for business, and it doesn’t get much better than that!


The Southampton Data Science Academy’s AI and Machine Learning for Business Course is tutor-led by University of Southampton academics - find out more: 

Course details 

Topics: artificial intelligence, AI, machine learning

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