AI: Are we playing the waiting game?

SA CEOs recognise the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with 90% of SA CEOs believing that AI will significantly change the way they do business in the next five years, and 60% believe it will be bigger than the internet.
This was a key finding in the 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey, and the 10th South African survey, released recently in Rosebank, Johannesburg. The official launch took place at the current World Economic Forum Conference in Davos.

AI is seen as one of several emerging technology breakthroughs, in a number of fields characterising the Fourth Industrial.

While both global and local CEOs overwhelmingly ‘agree’ that AI will have a significant impact on their business within the next five years, their efforts to move aggressively towards the adoption of AI are constrained, despite the massive investments made.

Where's the data?

It's been indicated that CEOs still cannot access the data they need. One of the more striking findings in this year’s survey indicated that the gap between the data CEOs need and what they get has not diminished in the last decade.

What's preventing organisations in moving toward AI adoption is the challenge to translate a deluge of data, which in turn leads to better decision making. Organisations lack talent and have a shortage of skills to clean, integrate, and extract value from the flood of big data.

While the survey states that as technology has advanced, so has expectations risen and that this could be a core reason for why the information gap is not closing. However, CEOs argue that this is not the case and that they simply do not have the capability to use the data they have to make optimised decisions.

The biggest gap is between what CEOs deem critical or important and the comprehensiveness of the information they actually receive. The survey found that less than a third of CEOs regard the data they receive on ‘critical’ or ‘important’ matters as sufficiently ‘comprehensive’.

Where the information gap is largest, is the disparity between customer needs and the skills gaps, both of which impede innovation and lead to higher people costs.

Are you ready to use AI-based systems?

A whopping 85% of CEOs say that a shortage of skills prevent them from innovating effectively; with only 4% of CEOs saying it has no impact on their organisations’ growth and profitability. It must be noted that the skills gap holding back AI is not only a matter of hiring AI specialists and data scientists, but that AI can also succeed if the whole workforce is prepared to use AI-based systems.

In conjunction with this, businesses also believe that AI will displace more jobs than it creates. According to the survey, the majority of CEOs ‘agree’ that the government should play a critical and integral role in the development of AI development and that government must help to manage AI adoption.

Despite this, most CEOS are taking a 'wait-and-see' approach to AI, with nearly two-thirds of CEOs saying they have not yet initiated AI programmes in their organisations. In addition, the survey results indicated that only a third of organisations have dipped a toe into AI for ‘limited uses’ and 28% say they have no plans to enter the AI revolution at the moment.

Of the 1,378 interviews conducted for the survey across 91 countries during September and October 2018, only 55 interviews were conducted with CEOs in South Africa.

About Danette Breitenbach

Danette Breitenbach was the editor and publisher of Advantage, the publication that served the marketing, media and advertising industry in southern Africa. Before her editorship, she was deputy-editor as well as freelancing for over a year on the publication before that. She has worked extensively in print media, mainly B2B, in the fields of marketing, mining, disability marketing, advertising and media.
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