AI is no longer an option….it’s a necessity!

84% of company executives believe they won’t achieve their business strategy without scaling AI

DataFest 2020 in Edinburgh this March aims to bring its audiences #BeyondData to think about the real impacts that data and AI can have in people’s lives, both nationally and internationally.

That’s why colleagues and I are delighted to be involved in the event. We believe in “the pursuit of AI with intention” and that this cuts to the heart of what companies need to be considering to succeed in the here and now. A new landmark study, AI: Built to Scale, carried out by Accenture, sets out the level of understanding among C-level executives that AI can not only transform a business, but that it is also imperative for a company’s survival.

It shows clearly that there has been a monumental shift in boardroom awareness of the phenomenal opportunity to transform the relationship between people and technology and charge our creativity and skills with this constellation of technologies, from machine learning to augmented reality.

Our global research found that three quarters of C-level executives believe if they don’t move beyond experimentation to aggressively deploy artificial intelligence across their organisations they risk going out of business by 2025.

Based on a survey of 1,500 C-level executives across 16 industries, 84% believe they won’t achieve their business strategy without scaling AI.

Greg Douglass, who worked on the study, said that it “proves the stakes have never been higher for scaling AI – and that the time has come to move beyond AI as a buzzword. Make it a source of new business value and competitive advantage.” Indeed, those organisations that are scaling AI effectively are seeing up to three times the return on their investments and a 30% premium on key financial valuation metrics.

It’s not just a consideration for very large companies either, but also for the smaller organisations that make up a huge proportion of businesses here in Scotland. When we grouped the surveyed companies by size, we found no significant differences in scaling success rate or return on AI investments. So, size is not a factor, but mindset is, combined with instilling the right AI capabilities.

Yet, while the report makes it clear that companies of all sizes and across all industries know they need to scale AI as a priority, many (75%) struggle with how to do it successfully. When this is broken down by industry, it is even more interesting. In the banking sector, we found that 71% said that they know how to pilot but struggled to scale AI across the business. This figure rose to 74% within the energy sector, 78% in life sciences and 87% within utilities.

In seeking to understand how companies are implementing AI across their organisations, we found the key reason many failed to move beyond Proof of Concept to production was because there’s no clear path forward. It’s important, therefore, to have a roadmap that focuses on the right data, the right strategy and the right people – things that are Accenture’s bread & butter as we help our clients with this day in, day out!

The top performers in our study all had a strong data foundation, with the right, relevant data assets in place, giving them the ability to glean the accurate insights. They also had a clearly defined AI strategy, with a C-suite led commitment to company-wide AI deployment.

This means being clear about the business problem that needs solving.

This strategic approach is reinforced by another key characteristic of top performers – assembling the right talent to drive results. Instead of relying on a single AI champion, 92% of the top performers have strategically embedded multi-disciplinary teams throughout their organisations. A move that also ensures diversity of thinking, an imperative for considerations such as responsible AI.

Ultimately, less than 5% of companies have industrialised their AI capabilities. These organisations have a digital platform mindset and enterprise culture of AI democratising real-time insights to drive business decisions. They have a clear enterprise-wide vision, accountability, metrics and governance that breaks down silos and they have responsible business practices that enhance brand perception and trust. It also means that there is still huge potential to be realised by the other 95%.

Where is all this going? For the data scientist and our sector it is immense. The future of AI promises a new era of disruption and productivity, where human ingenuity is enhanced by speed and precision. In commercial terms, it has been projected that global revenues from AI for enterprise applications will grow by more than 50 percent between 2018 and 2025. As a result, companies are catching on to the need to get their heads around how to scale AI, and fast.

· Megan Hughes is Artificial Intelligence & External (3rd Party) Data Analytics Lead, Accenture Applied Intelligence

· Accenture is a sponsor of DataFest 2020

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