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WEF Davos: Artificial intelligence forces fundamental business shift

While further thinking is needed around job changes, the business benefits of AI are already clear for many.

By Sabrina Dougall

Artificial intelligence is the tech-in-shining-armour dreamed of by CTOs across the world – yet serious questions of ROI, workforce and ethics persist.

This week, AI is taking centre stage at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, as the public-private financial conference aims “to rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world”. On Tuesday, new research from Infosys confirmed 90% of senior executives enjoyed measurable benefits from deploying AI technologies within their organisation.

A survey of C-level executives has found 86% of large companies around the world have middle- or late-stage AI deployments and view AI as a major facilitator of future business operations. Furthermore, a notable 80% of IT decision makers at organisations in later stages of AI deployment reported that they are using AI to augment existing solutions or build new business-critical solutions and services to optimise insights and CX. Artificial intelligence is taking on a central role in future planning in business strategy as well, with 42% of these organisations also expect significant impact in research and development in the next five years.

Artificial intelligence is delivering real-world benefits across a multitude of business processes; 36 % of respondents reported using AI technologies in operations, 35% in research and development and 33% in customer service.

The leading industries currently using AI to automate business processes include retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) at 85%, followed by telecom and communication service providers 83% and banking and insurance 80%.

At a granular level, a considerable 45% of respondents said the AI deployments in their organisation are greatly outpacing the accuracy and productivity of comparable human activity. Direct, tangible results were reported most in companies based in India (75%), the US (71%) and China (61%). Meanwhile, 42% of UK companies reported the same. This means that ROI is not yet a guarantee for this adolescent technology.

Benefits to enterprise include saving expensive staff time through automating mundane, repetitive tasks. Indeed, 66% of those surveyed leveraged AI technologies primarily for business process automation – often viewed as a good starting point because efficiency improvements soon become apparent. Around half (48%) said AI had augmented human skills to make their employees perform better at work. Slightly fewer (45%) agreed with the notion that artificial intelligence makes for better employees because it frees their time.

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Infosys’ report highlights the “paradoxical” role of disruptive technologies today, particularly AI. While concerns can arise over economic transformation, skills shortages and job displacement, “the arc of AI leans toward empowerment and giving humans the tools necessary to automate redundant tasks, detect and analyze hidden patterns in data”, according to the report. Agriculture, meteorology, epidemiology and safety in mining and engineering industries all stand to benefit from artificial intelligence.

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While further thinking is needed around job role changes alongside robo assistants and other AI automation programmes, the business benefits are already clear for many. On the other hand, 69% of C-level executives said employees within their organisation are concerned AI technologies will replace them; therefore ethics must also remain a key consideration for enterprise managers.

Yet optimism abounds in workforce adaptability; 77% of IT decision makers (ITDMs) are confident employees in their organisation could be trained for the new job roles AI will create in their business. On top of this, 75% said they are confident their organisation is prepared to handle the impact AI will have on its workforce over the next six months. Nevertheless, three out of four ITDMS felt their executives would benefit from formal training on the implications of AI technologies.

Meanwhile data management is a persistent obstacle to AI adoption; 49% of IT decision makers reported their organisation is holding back as their data is not yet in a fit state to accommodate artificial intelligence. Encouragingly though, 77% of respondents said their organisation is investing in data management.

Mohit Joshi, President of Infosys said: “AI, as the research shows, is becoming core to business strategy, and is compelling business leaders to alter the way they hire, train and inspire teams, and the way they compete and foster innovation.

“Industry disruption from AI is no longer imminent, it is here. The organisations that embrace AI with a clearly defined strategy and use AI to amplify their workforce rather than replace it, will take the lead.”

The survey of 1,053 global C-level executives and IT decision makers from companies of 500+ employees based in Australia, China, France, Germany, India, UK and USA was commissioned by Infosys and carried out by Branded Research Inc.

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