AI adoption driven by COVID repurcussions

Larger companies are almost 70 per cent more likely to have actively deployed
AI as part of their business operations.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way businesses operate in fundamental ways, from how they communicate with their customers through virtual assistants, to automating key workflows and even managing network security.

Almost one-third of IT professionals surveyed globally say their business is now using artificial intelligence (AI), with 43 per cent reporting that their company has accelerated their rollout of AI as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While recent advances in the technology are making AI more accessible than ever, the annual survey also found that a lack of AI skills and increasing data complexity are cited as top challenges.

The “Global AI Adoption Index 2021,” conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of IBM, revealed that while AI adoption was nearly flat over the last year, momentum is shifting as the need for AI has been accelerated by changing business needs due to the global pandemic.

AI is already changing the way businesses operate today, from how they communicate with their customers via virtual assistants, to automating key workflows, and even managing network security. The “2021 CEO Study” from IBM’s Institute for Business Value recently revealed that more than half of CEOs surveyed expect AI to deliver tangible business benefits in the next few years.

A majority of IT professionals across all demographics report that their company is currently using automation software or tools. 39 per cent of global businesses are currently using automation to pre-empt potential downtime or technical issues.

Of those companies using automation tools, respondents in China were the most likely of any country to focus on driving greater efficiencies (75 per cent).

Companies in China are more likely to be using or considering using AI to personalize customer experiences and automate business workflow, while those in the US and India are most likely to be using AI to automate IT operations.

About 72 per cent of IT professionals in India, compared with only 23 per cent in China, are confident that their company has the right tools in place to find data across their business, no matter where it resides, so it can be organized, analyzed and turned into useful insights. In the US, this figure is 44 per cent.

Highlights from the “Global AI Adoption Index 2021” include:

  • Business adoption of AI was basically flat, but significant investments in AI are planned: Almost one-third of companies reported using AI in their business, similar to 2020 findings. For those deploying or exploring AI, they report it is being driven by multiple pressures and opportunities businesses are facing, from the COVID-19 pandemic to advances in the technology that make it more accessible. A third of global IT professionals report their company plans to invest in both skills and AI solutions over the next 12 months.
  • COVID-19 accelerated how businesses are using automation today: 80 percent of companies are already using automation software or plan to use this technology in the next 12 months, and for more than one-in-three organizations, the pandemic influenced their decision to use automation to bolster the productivity of employees, while others found new applications of this technology to make themselves more resilient, such as helping to automate the resolution of IT incidents.
  • Trustworthy and explainable AI is critical to business: 91 percent of businesses using AI say their ability to explain how it arrived at a decision is critical. While global businesses are now acutely aware of the importance of having trustworthy AI, more than half of companies cite significant barriers in getting there including lack of skills, inflexible governance tools, biased data and more.
  • The ability to access data anywhere is key for increasing AI adoption: The proliferation of data across the enterprise has resulted in over two thirds of global IT professionals drawing from more than 20 different data sources to inform their AI. Almost 90 percent of IT pros say being able to run their AI projects wherever the data resides is key to the technology’s adoption.
  • Natural language processing is at the forefront of recent adoption: Almost half of businesses today are now using applications powered by natural language processing (NLP), and one-in-four businesses plan to begin using NLP technology over the next 12 months. Customer service is the top NLP use case with 52 percent of global IT professionals reporting that their company is using or considering using NLP solutions to improve customer experience and it was the use AI case IT professionals were most likely to report that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their focus on.

As organisations move to a post-pandemic world, data from the Global AI Adoption Index 2021 underscores a major uptick in AI investment. A large majority of those investments continue to be focused on the three key capabilities that define AI for business – automating IT and processes, building trust in AI outcomes, and understanding the language of business.

While adoption is poised for growth, some global businesses are still facing a multitude of challenges when it comes to adopting AI. Persistent barriers across markets and industries highlight the need for continued focus on addressing skills and solutions gaps.

The survey determined top three barriers to AI adoption for businesses are:

  • Limited AI expertise or knowledge (39 percent)
  • Increasing data complexity and data silos (32 percent)
  • Lack of tools/platforms for developing AI models (28 percent).



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