2022 EFMD Case Writing Competition winners interview series: Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement

EFMD encourages and rewards innovative and impactful cases in management development each year. This year again brought an exceptional variety of winning cases across various industries. We interviewed the winners to find out more about their motivation, inspiration and significant challenges. The following interview is with Steven Miller & Lipika Bhattacharya of Singapore Management University, the winners of the “Continuous Improvement: The Journey to Excellence” category.

‘Cybersecurity at FireEye: Human + AI’

What was the inspiration for your case?

The inspiration for this case came from a series of discussions with cybersecurity firm FireEye (now called Mandiant) to understand how they were using AI systems as part of their everyday work and what this meant for the changing nature of the human-machine alliance. These discussions were shared in a book collaboration, and also a Forbes article.  The case study was developed later to explore the company’s story further, through a series of additional interviews, to understand the company and its experiences in implementing AI. The prevailing general perspective of AI has often exaggerated the notion that its implementation in workplaces would inevitably lead to widespread job losses for humans. However, the truth is that most AI applications require human collaboration to function effectively, and while advances in AI applications have indeed extended the range of jobs that can be fully automated, this is mostly limited to a subset of situations where there are highly repetitive or similar tasks occurring at higher volumes.

This case aims to help readers grasp how AI-driven systems can actually assist humans in enhancing their job performance while simultaneously increasing the volume of tasks that can be handled by the existing workforce in organizations. It is important to acknowledge that modern workplaces face persistent disruptions, generates vast amounts of data requiring processing on a daily basis, and confront ever-evolving business scenarios that demand dynamic solutions capable of being continuously updated and improved. This case study tries to break the ‘man versus machine’ myth and exemplify how continuous improvement in mindset, processes, technology and operations within an organization can help them cope with disruption and with the ever-evolving business playfields. We believe this case study is useful for students, faculty and executives who are looking for good examples of how AI-based systems can be an integral part of pursuing continuous improvement leading to higher levels of performance. The several thousand downloads of this case from the Harvard Business Publishing portal support this.

Sponsorship for the ‘Continuous Improvement: The Journey to Excellence’ category is currently available.

What were the major challenges in designing the case?

The case revolves around a cybersecurity company that has incorporated AI solutions to address the constantly evolving cybersecurity threats encountered by businesses and governments worldwide. Throughout our discussions regarding the implemented solutions, the primary focus was on the technological aspects of the AI solution within the context of a specific type of cybersecurity use case, which could prove challenging for readers without a technical background to comprehend. Hence, the initial challenge was to present the technical aspects of cybersecurity in a language that non-technical readers could grasp. The second challenge involved identifying the key strategies employed by the company to facilitate the adoption of AI. Many of these strategies straddled the boundary between technological and business significance, given the nature of the cybersecurity industry. Consequently, it was crucial to determine which strategies held the utmost importance. The third challenge lay in defining the benefits offered by the Human+AI approach, as this aspect often poses ambiguities for companies to discern. However, while highlighting the direct advantages, we also aimed to ensure that any uncertainties pertaining to technology implementations were clearly portrayed in the case.

What would you like to highlight from your case?

We would like to emphasize a prominent strategy employed by FireEye (Mandiant) known as the ‘Automatibility Spectrum,’ which has been extensively discussed in the case. The spectrum serves as a framework to classify tasks based on their potential for automation using AI. On the right side of the spectrum, tasks that are relatively easier to automate are situated, with technology being the preferred approach. On the left side of the spectrum, tasks that prove challenging to fully automate with AI are placed, requiring human intervention, while AI tools play a supporting role. This spectrum takes various factors into account to assess the level of automatability for a given task. It is a straightforward conceptual framework for implementing AI within an organization, yet its significance should not be underestimated. This Automatability Spectrum forms the foundation of our discussion on how AI is mostly used to aid humans in enhancing their work performance, and only a relatively small part of the spectrum contains the full automation situations which pose a threat of job losses.

How do you believe your findings could impact society and business in the future?

A key aspect that our findings highlight is that AI can effectively serve as a tool to enhance human performance rather than replace human workers. By automating sub-tasks related to cybersecurity threat identification, which involves several data analysis steps that are computationally intensive, repetitive and mundane,  AI enables the experienced analysts who are using the tool to focus on more strategic, judgemental and creative aspects of their work, thereby increasing productivity and job satisfaction. This symbiotic relationship between humans and AI support tools fosters new dimensions of collaboration within the work environment where humans can leverage AI technologies to achieve better outcomes. Furthermore, our findings emphasize that implementing AI in a firm is not a one-time event but a continuous improvement journey of pursuing excellence. It involves ongoing learning, improvement, and adaptation to evolving technologies and business needs. By embracing AI as a part of their long-term strategy, while simultaneously improving upon the performance of these systems on an everyday basis, businesses can stay ahead of the competition, streamline operations, and unlock new opportunities for growth. In a societal context, the widespread adoption of AI has the potential to address complex challenges more efficiently and effectively. AI-powered solutions can assist in areas such as cybersecurity, healthcare, transportation, climate change, and public safety, leading to improved outcomes and enhanced quality of life for individuals.

Delve into a wealth of valuable insights within the remaining Case Writing Competition interviews.


About Sponsorship

EFMD Case Writing Competition is proud to have dedicated sponsors who drive management education towards impactful teaching and learning. Sponsoring a category allows you to showcase your institution’s expertise in the specific field of management education in the wide EFMD network. The choice of category, its exact definition and any specific conditions are the privileges of the sponsor. Sponsorships for the following categories are currently available – Bringing Technology to Market, Continuous Improvement: the Journey to Excellence, Corporate Social Responsibility, Responsible Business, MENA Business Cases, Responsible Leadership, and Women in Business. If you are interested in sponsoring the mentioned categories or launching a new category relevant to case writing and teaching, please check out our category sponsorship opportunities page or contact Hansol Park at .

More information about the 2022 EFMD Case Writing Competition can be found on the EFMD Case Writing Competition page. Please visit The Case Centre’s webpage to access the collection of the winning cases. See other interviews from this series.

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