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Ray Kelley - Understanding Your AI Journey - June 2024

Understanding Your AI Journey: Implementing the Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly Strategy

by Ray Kelley, SVP & Partner, Wray Executive Search

As businesses increasingly turn to artificial intelligence to drive growth, enhance efficiency, and improve customer experiences, it's crucial to assess where your company stands in its AI journey. The "Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly" framework is a practical and insightful approach to gauge your progress and plan the next steps. This article outlines how to identify your company's AI maturity level and provides actionable steps to advance through each phase.

Crawl: Laying the Foundation


  • Exploratory Phase: At this stage, companies are beginning to explore AI's potential. They may have a few pilot projects but lack a comprehensive strategy.

  • Limited Expertise: The organization has limited in-house AI expertise and relies on external consultants for guidance.

  • Basic Data Infrastructure: Data is being collected, but it may not be well-organized or integrated across the business.

Action Steps:

  1. Educate Leadership: Ensure that top management understands AI's potential and limitations. Invest in training programs to build foundational knowledge.

  2. Identify Use Cases: Start with small, manageable AI projects that address specific business problems. Focus on quick wins that can demonstrate value.

  3. Build Data Capabilities: Improve data collection, storage, and management practices. Ensure data is clean, relevant, and accessible.

Walk: Building Competence


  • Pilot Projects: The company has successfully implemented a few pilot AI projects and is learning from these experiences.

  • Growing Expertise: There is an increasing number of employees with AI skills, and the company may have a dedicated AI team.

  • Enhanced Data Infrastructure: Data management practices are improving, with better integration and accessibility.

Action Steps:

  1. Develop a Strategy: Create a clear AI strategy aligned with business objectives. Prioritize projects that offer the highest ROI.

  2. Invest in Tools: Acquire AI tools and platforms that support scalable implementation. Consider cloud-based solutions for flexibility.

  3. Foster a Data-Driven Culture: Encourage decision-making based on data and insights. Promote collaboration between data scientists and business units.

Run: Scaling Up


  • Integrated AI Solutions: AI is integrated into multiple business processes, enhancing efficiency and decision-making.

  • Strong Expertise: The company has a robust AI team with specialized skills and a growing internal talent pool.

  • Advanced Data Capabilities: Data infrastructure is mature, with real-time data processing and advanced analytics.

Action Steps:

  1. Scale Successful Projects: Expand successful pilot projects across the organization. Focus on scaling AI solutions that have proven their value.

  2. Optimize Processes: Use AI to optimize and automate complex business processes. Aim for continuous improvement and efficiency gains.

  3. Enhance Skills: Continuously invest in upskilling employees. Encourage cross-functional teams to collaborate on AI projects.

Fly: Leading Innovation


  • AI at the Core: AI is embedded in the company's core operations and strategy. It drives innovation and competitive advantage.

  • Expert Workforce: The company has a highly skilled workforce with advanced AI expertise and a culture of continuous learning.

  • State-of-the-Art Data Infrastructure: The data infrastructure supports sophisticated AI models, real-time insights, and predictive analytics.

Action Steps:

  1. Drive Innovation: Use AI to explore new business models, products, and services. Encourage experimentation and innovation.

  2. Maintain Agility: Stay agile and responsive to new AI developments and market changes. Continuously monitor and adapt your AI strategy.

  3. Lead Ethically: Ensure responsible AI practices. Focus on ethical considerations, data privacy, and bias mitigation.


Understanding where your company stands in the AI journey using the "Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly" framework is essential for strategic planning and successful implementation. By recognizing your current phase and taking the appropriate steps to advance, your organization can effectively leverage AI to drive growth, enhance efficiency, and maintain a competitive edge in the ever-evolving business landscape.

Ray Kelley


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