Companies see value, challenges in AI

April 29, 2019
Organizations today have faith in artificial intelligence, results of a survey show. But a dearth of tech expertise and low-quality data are slowing implementations.

Companies today regard AI as more than just hype, with 70 percent of survey respondents saying they’ve adopted or plan to adopt the technology, and just 1 percent saying it will have no value for their companies.

But the optimism buoying AI has a flipside, with a majority saying there’s a shortage of internal expertise, and low-quality data and a high level of investment also cited as challenges.

MIT Technology Review Insights has conducted an anonymous survey on AI within its Global Panel membership base of business leaders. Respondents are senior-level executives working at midsize-to-large organizations around the world and representing most industries. The total number of respondents is 583, approximately 43% of which are based in North America, 29% in Europe, and 18% in the Asia-Pacific region. Below are the main findings.

Untapped value

Most companies using AI are investing in the technology on a case-by-case basis, at 42 percent, the survey found. This may indicate that at more companies today, individual business problems are driving the decision to use AI. Companies with a centralized plan to roll out AI is nearly half that, at 21 percent, and 8 percent of companies have incorporated AI into their operations.

Which statement best describes your company’s strategy for the deployment of AI?

We have not yet determined whether AI could have value
AI will not have value for our company
AI will have value but we have not yet adopted AI
We are investing on a case-by-case basis
AI is transformative; we have a centralized roll out plan
We have incorporated AI in our operations
NOTES: % of respondents.

AI adoption was the same in North America and Europe, with 71 percent of respondents in each region investing in AI case by case, launching AI strategies, or incorporating AI into their operations. Adoption was slightly higher in the Asia-Pacific, at 76 percent.

In North America, 19 percent of respondents said they believe AI will have value for their companies but have not yet adopted it, while 8 percent have not determined whether AI could have value. Europe showed a nearly identical dynamic, with 20 percent optimistic about AI but not yet taking it on, and 8 percent having made no determination about the technology’s value. In the Asia-Pacific, the divide was 19 percent versus 4 percent.

As for where companies are using AI the most, 33 percent are applying it to product or service development, 20 percent are using it in research and development, and 10 percent have incorporated AI into customer service. Smaller percentages of respondents are using the technology in other areas of the business, with 8 percent applying AI in sales and marketing, 5 percent in their supply-chain operations, and 2 percent in finance.

In what area is your company using AI the most?

Customer service
Supply chain
Sales and marketing
Product or service development
We are not using AI
NOTES: % of respondents.

Trouble with AI

As with any new technology, AI poses numerous challenges for companies. Respondents to the survey were asked to choose three they considered the most pressing. The number one difficulty for AI adopters was a dearth of talent, with 60 percent of respondents saying they had trouble finding AI expertise and experience among their workforces. Nearly half, 48 percent, cited low-quality data for AI as a problem, and 35 percent said the high level of investment required was a challenge.

What are the main challenges as your company deploys AI? (top 3)

Regulatory/data protection
Unions or workforce issues
Shortage of internal talent for AI
Slow decision-making at the exec level
Insufficient quality of data
High level of investment required
Internal resistance to change
Difficulty in making the business case
NOTES: % of respondents.

Other problems survey respondents pointed to were regulatory issues such as data protection laws, with 27 percent; difficulty making a business case for AI, with 21 percent; internal resistance to change, with 20 percent; slow decision-making among executives, with 20 percent; and labor union or workforce issues, with 3 percent.

In North America, 62 percent saw a shortage of talent as a problem. In contrast, 14 percent said slow decision-making in the C-suite was a challenge. This could be a sign that companies rolling out AI technologies have a fair supply of people who can think strategically about AI and few doers who can work with the technology. In Europe, 56 percent saw the talent shortage as problematic in deploying AI, while 19 percent blamed C-level foot-dragging. In the Asia-Pacific, it was 71 percent versus 25 percent.

Other findings from the survey included:

How confident are you in discussing AI and its potential applications to key stakeholders in your organization?

Extremely confident
Very confident
Somewhat confident
Not confident
NOTES: % of respondents.

To what degree will your own role be affected by AI within the next 3-5 years?

My role will not be affected
My role will change mildly
My role will change significantly
My role will be eliminated
NOTES: % of respondents.

Who should regulate AI?

International bodies
Companies should self-govern
NOTES: % of respondents.