“We’re mostly seeing positive strides in AI,” Dr Chris Brauer noted during this year’s Future Decoded, “rather than giant leaps.”
Our in-depth report into AI, ‘Accelerating competitive advantage’, showed that 38% of business leaders want to be at the forefront of AI innovation. This figure has doubled since last year. Despite the overwhelming desire to be at the forefront of emerging technologies, many organisations are struggling to successfully implement AI.
Never-ending experimental phase – or not doing anything at all
While 8% of UK organisations consider themselves in the advanced stage of AI use, plenty more find themselves trapped in the experimental phase. 48% of organisations say they’re ‘experimenting’ with the technology. They tinker, they toy, they try – but many struggle to move beyond exploration of the technology into enterprise scale AI.
I’ve seen many organisations getting stuck in the experimental phase, and very few ever manage to move into a live AI product. Even those that do deploy AI only manage to do so in pockets within the organisation, and face challenges when trying to scale. It’s also apparent that a large section of the businesses we talked to don’t have any AI strategy in place at all; 34%, according to our research, are doing nothing in the burgeoning AI arena.
This creates some major challenges in demonstrating the business ROI of AI. Without demonstrating wins, as small as they may be, organizations might fail to see the benefits and turn away from this technology.
So, what’s the best way to advance from being in the 48% – or even the 34% – to the 8%?
To start, you should approach AI implementation as you would any other on-going digital transformation project. That is to say, this isn’t something to be driven solely by your IT department; it demands buy-in at every level of your organisation, since the technology will empower every job role. This requires thinking beyond the technology itself, and starting to think about the process, governance and roles that need to be in place to foster AI innovation.
One of my favourite statistics from our report shows that 96% of employees claim managers never consulted them on the introduction of AI into the workplace – and 83% of leaders claim employees never asked about the business’s AI plans.
Or, to put it another way: organizations need to leverage communication to drive innovation.
Lack of understanding
It’s very easy for organisations to get caught in the hype surrounding AI. The technology itself promises so much – but with that comes a lot of confusion as to what AI actually is, the benefits of AI and what it can actually help businesses achieve.
As Dr Lee Howls, Head of AI at PA Consulting Group, says: ‘It is worth understanding whether you are just trying to do something for technology’s sake, or if there is a genuine problem that might be solved through AI.’
While scaling the technology should be approached like any other digital transformation, this is more than just another IT project. AI has gone beyond the technical definition, impacting every employee in every department – from marketing to finance. Therefore, it is fundamentally important that organizations think about AI enablement and education across all roles and functions. Through this understanding of AI organizations will be able to unlock capabilities and potential.
AI must be used fairly, responsibly, and effectively. The challenge is, many business leaders aren’t entirely sure how to implement the technology in this way. A lack of training lies at the heart of this issue. ‘Accelerating the competitive edge’ reveals that a little over a fifth of UK leaders have fully completed training; they understand how AI complements their job and empowers their organisation.
On the other hand, two-thirds don’t yet know how AI actually works, and therefore where it would be best placed. Without a fundamental understanding how the system comes up with the conclusions it does (hint: lots of data + lots of compute + algorithms = AI) , it’s impossible to fully recognise the value of AI.
Lack of process and tools
A strong data strategy is what separates advanced AI organisations from their rivals. Not every business is equipped to deliver that.
Part of the issue here is the ‘novelty’ of AI. The systems have evolved at great pace, so now organisations find themselves playing catch-up. How can we transform AI into enterprise-grade?, leaders wonder.
The answer, of course, is the introduction of the right processes and tools.
Hugh Milward, Microsoft UK’s director of CELA, strikes a sympathetic note, saying: ‘It’s hard for a company to make a decision that looks like it is against its own short term commercial interests, but that is the point where ethics really hits the road. Having the right process by which making the “right” decision is eased for the Chief Executive Officer and management of the company is really important.’
Creating any sort of AI framework doesn’t end post-launch, AI systems are constantly evolving and iterating on themselves. The launch is only just beginning, and organizations need to think about having the right processes in place to review and refine these systems over time to maximise the value of AI.
Any sort of organisational change can be challenging for employees. With the large scale of change AI presents, your business may be facing a full-blown culture shock.
Perhaps this is linked to a misconception of how AI should be used. It shouldn’t be used as a replacement for human workers, but to augment their roles and allow humans to use our uniquely human skills to do things that they do best.
The introduction of AI demands a change of skills and a change of mindset – neither of which happen overnight. In itself, this, perhaps, wouldn’t be an issue. Every business leader understands how change must be managed without damaging morale. However, in our report, 71% of leaders say they’re not sure how to cope with staffing changes and workplace disruption as they drive through AI.
Thankfully, according to PWC’s 2018 Economic Outlook report, there is a very real chance that “AI will create as many jobs as it displaces. This chimes well with the outlook of both employers and employees who are eager to become AI literate – in those AI-advanced organisations, 66% of business leaders claim to be actively supporting their employees on the path to AI literacy. Meanwhile, 36% of employees state that they’d use the time saved by the technology to learn new skills; 29% believe AI would allow them to take on new responsibilities. On the flip side, however, a little over one in ten workers have completed any sort of educational training.
The only way to overcome this sort of challenge is for businesses to, first gain buy-in, offer dedicated training on AI systems and ensure you bring everyone on the AI journey. Microsoft’s popular AI business school is an excellent place to start when creating new business opportunities for your business, employees, and customers.
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About the author
Kate currently leads the Data and AI Cloud Solution Architecture team for Financial Services at Microsoft UK, helping organisations shape their data strategies in a scalable and responsible way. Her main focus lies in the intersection between technology and business, how data can shape organisations and AI systems. Prior to joining Microsoft, she worked at start-ups where she focused on leveraging big data and behaviour analytics to augment decision making. Kate comes from a background in scientific research, specialising in neurobiological genetic engineering. During her research, she studied the influence of genetics on behaviour and survival mechanisms. She holds a MSc in Molecular Biology from Bar Ilan University and a MBA from Tel Aviv University.