When asked to rank the importance of a wide variety of technologies and trends to the future of their work over the next three years, respondents rated AI as second only to hyperconnectivity. AI has gone from hype to becoming an incredibly powerful tool with the potential to take organizations and individuals to new thresholds of performance. And, as a consequence, a very large portion of businesses – 70% – are implementing and trialing AI in some form or other, within their businesses right now.
Five key themes have emerged from our research and analysis:
AI is central to the future of work. AI is now accepted as an essential tool for modern enterprises, with respondents naming AI as a top driver for the future of work. The future of business will be based on AI-driven systems that continuously model, simulate and recommend the “next best action.” Cognitive technologies are also coming into their own to deal with the mountains of data that process work generates. AI will be deployed to strip out costs, speed decision cycles and open up new horizons for innovation and disruption.
Realism and recognition now surround what AI can do. AI is arguably the most difficult of the digital technologies to master, but it’s also the most rewarding and – according to this study – the most indicative of digital maturity. While the percentage of respondents citing AI as impacting the future of work declined this year vs. in 2016, we believe this is because of businesses’ more measured, nuanced approach to AI technologies. The more that companies absorb AI into their business processes, the less they see it as something magical, and more as a new means to an end.
It’s the data, stupid. AI is playing a critical role in enabling businesses to churn through data at “beyond-human” scales and levels of precision. Preparing data for AI-driven analysis is a task increasingly being taken on by intelligent systems. Currently, 17% of the work involved with sifting large data sets is done by machines vs. humans, and this is forecast to rise to 25% by 2023, according to our study. The ratio between the volumes of work performed by humans as opposed to machines continues to turn in favor of machines.
AI changes work, process by process. A substantive majority of companies (70%) have piloted or implemented AI across a growing range of activities; in areas such as fraud detection and supplier management, AI is becoming a common approach. Respondents augmenting their business processes with AI expect to realize 11% increases in operational efficiency this year and 17% by 2023.
Businesses that focus on AI ethics tend to also have a greater sense of purpose. Those organizations that emphasize ethics in the use of AI also prioritize ethical approaches to managing their workforce post-COVID. These businesses are also more attuned to workforce safety, pay and conditions, and more likely to provide higher rewards for “gig” based work. A focus on AI ethics indicates an organization operating with purpose.
Successful AI doesn’t happen overnight though. To make it a game-changer and generate value, businesses must have the right data, strategy, applications, skills and use cases, and they must focus on real business objectives and problems to solve.