Thriving with AI and digital tech: A chat with McKinsey & Company's Rodney Zemmel

February 28, 2024

Thriving with AI and digital tech: A chat with McKinsey & Company's Rodney Zemmel

Rodney Zemmel

Senior Partner & Global Leader of McKinsey Digital, McKinsey & Company

Willy Walker recently chatted with Rodney Zemmel about the looming digital transformations companies will go through in the coming years.

Rodney Zemmel joined me for a recent Walker Webcast. Rodney is a Senior Partner and the global leader of McKinsey Digital at McKinsey & Company.  Before his work at McKinsey Digital, Rodney led McKinsey’s Healthcare practice, working with clients in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and healthcare services sectors. During our conversation, we covered everything digital, from artificial intelligence to how to measure a post-digital transformation's success.

Should we worry about AI?

On the surface, artificial intelligence seems great. AI will drastically change the business world by helping to automate tasks and make data more usable—but that doesn’t mean the technology doesn’t have some downsides. At the end of the day, we are creating a technology that could be weaponized against us when placed in the hands of someone with bad intent.

However, Rodney believes that there are more prominent things to worry about than the “existential” risk of AI. While the rise of AI might seem a bit Terminator-esque to some, he believes there are more pressing concerns. One of his most prominent worries is that companies are spending large amounts of money on implementing AI solutions. However, they aren’t reaping enough of a financial benefit compared to the cost. Additionally, we have to be wary of how the AI is trained. Most AI and Large Language Models( LLMs) are trained on internet data, and practically anyone can publish content on the internet.

Why businesses need a digital strategy

Although we have lived in a digital age for quite some time now, there are countless companies worldwide, both large and small, that still have not properly implemented a digital transformation.  This problem is one of the many problems that Rodney and his team tackle daily. This is also the topic of Rodney’s most recent book, Rewired: The McKinsey Guide to Outcompeting in the Age of Digital and AI.

In this book, Rodney and his team outline the fact that a properly implemented digital transformation can considerably impact a company’s financials. However, most who are implementing digital transformations don’t pay attention to the material cost or the financial benefit of said transformation, rendering it ineffective.

The signs of a successful digital transformation

To write the book, Rodney and his team studied numerous businesses that implemented a successful digital transformation, and they noticed that these businesses all shared a few traits in common. The first thing that they noticed was that successful digital transformations always had business and technology people working together on problems. They also had relevant control elements (finance, human resources, quality control/assurance) working together on the implementation. Lastly, successful businesses had short deliverable timelines (6-10 weeks) instead of multiple month/year-long deliverables.

Digital transformation is a continuous process, and companies with clear, measurable objectives at every step of the way are the ones that succeed.

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