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How the IKNS Program Helped Prepare One Alum for a Career in AI

Information & Knowledge Strategy alum Chris Reitz (’14SPS, IKNS) first encountered artificial intelligence as a computer science undergrad around the year 2000.

Reitz says he’s been “bumping up against AI” ever since, first as senior manager of digital strategy and innovation at The Economist and most recently as senior director of artificial intelligence at Fortune 25 insurance provider Elevance Health.

Since graduating from the M.S. in Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies in 2014, Reitz has remained active in both the IKNS and Applied Analytics programs. He is currently a course associate in the IKNS program, where he helps to support AI for the Knowledge-driven Organization (IKNS 5992), a graduate course developed and taught by IKNS lecturer Ben Royce.

We recently spoke to Reitz about his current role at Elevance Health, how the IKNS program continues to influence his career journey, and his thoughts on the future of AI.

How did Columbia’s IKNS program prepare you for a career in AI?

IKNS is focused on people collaborating with and managing information and knowledge assets. The program teaches strategy across disciplines, which promises to remain valuable in this era of AI.

Generative AI represents technology capabilities finally catching up with the theory and practice of knowledge management. Knowledge workers can now engage massive knowledge stores and multi-domain expertise via a single system and interface. How this all comes together in practice is the ability to translate concepts, solicit diverse perspectives, facilitate decisions amid dynamic inputs, and apply emerging capabilities to address business problems and unlock value.

IKNS is also this really nice platform for collecting mental models to inform different directions one can take a career—product management, technology-related roles, and analytics broadly speaking—and it certainly fed my appetite for understanding more about artificial intelligence.

What is one skill people will be surprised you learned from the program?

Columbia’s IKNS program helped boost my vocabulary in a way that has helped me be more articulate about the topics that matter most to me and my work. More than that, it gave me the confidence to speak up—to feel like I had something to say that could make a difference. In short, IKNS helped me find my voice.

Could you tell us about your new role at Elevance Health?

With the proliferation of large language models such as ChatGPT, Elevance Health has made a very intentional decision: We’re going to invest in AI, and we’re going to give it to our associates. The approach we’re taking is to first democratize access.

We’ve got our own in-house large language model, and virtually all associates in the company are getting it. And that involves a ton of training. I’m proud to share that I’ve trained more than 12,000 associates in just about six weeks. It was intense and really fast-paced, doing a couple of training sessions or talks per week in addition to office hours and other internal speaking occasions. Next we are looking at specific business processes and determining where there are inefficiencies or problems, and how a large language model could help create better, more consistent results.

What made you want to return to the Columbia IKNS community to teach?

Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I can’t think of a better place to engage than Columbia.

As a student, I was inspired by the practitioners and experts convened by the IKNS program. Since I’ve had the opportunity to connect and share my own experiences, the students are now a source of inspiration and optimism about the future. I’ve benefited tremendously from staying connected with this rich ecosystem where growth and transformation abound—whether it’s the IKNS program, the School of Professional Studies, or the entire alumni and thought leader network of Columbia University.

What industry trends do you think IKNS students should be paying attention to?

The field of AI is continuously evolving, creating opportunities for a broad range of backgrounds and skills. There are a number of emerging trends that lower the bar to value creation. Participation in AI’s growth does not require deep technical expertise such as developing and training models. Instead, practitioners can add significant value:

  • Applied AI leverages existing AI tools to optimize and accelerate business processes. Applied AI is about solving practical problems and unlocking the value of data within current business frameworks to enhance efficiency, improve decision-making, and drive innovation.
  • Generative AI’s true value lies in its application, addressing specific business challenges and opportunities. Generative AI can augment content creation, enhance customer interactions, and provide innovative solutions across domains.
  • AI agents are systems designed to proactively gather and route information, coordinate workflows, and determine when human judgment is necessary. This trend indicates a shift toward more autonomous and intelligent systems handling complex tasks. Be on the lookout for new career opportunities for developing and managing these AI agents.

By focusing on these areas, IKNS graduates can position themselves at the forefront of AI-driven innovation and gain a competitive edge in their careers. The ability to apply AI effectively to solving business problems will be a highly sought-after skill, and staying informed about these trends will be key to their professional success.

About the Course

AI in the Knowledge Driven Organization: This IKNS course is an introduction to AI, geared specifically at knowledge managers and leaders and project managers in knowledge-driven organizations. As such, the target audience are translators of AI in organizations, rather than the AI technology experts themselves. The course covers the basic applications of AI, how they work, and when they are appropriate, and includes issues of bias and access. Class content is taught around case studies from prototypically knowledge-driven organizations such as Google, Stitch Fix, and Amazon.

About the Program

The Columbia University M.S. in Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program provides students with foundations in information science, organizational psychology, and change management as well as practical skills in project management and executive leadership. The program is available part-time, full-time, on campus, and online.

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