Ireland lagging behind Europe in AI adoption and application

Kieran McCorry, Microsoft Ireland (Image: Microsoft)

Despite its potential for business, Microsoft and EY research shows a growing gap with European counterparts

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18 October 2018 | 0

Irish organisations are falling behind European counterparts in the adoption and application of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, according to new research from Microsoft and EY.

The research, conducted among 277 major companies, across seven business sectors and 15 countries in Europe, also comprised in-depth interviews with 20 organisations based in Ireland, and found there are key stumbling blocks here which could threaten successful AI roll out and, ultimately it says, digital success.

“AI will be a key driver of technology within the aviation industry. Machine Learning is already finding its way into our resource planning and passenger experience front end systems,” Dublin Airport Authority

According to the research, almost two thirds (65%) of organisations expect AI to have a high impact on their core business. This compares with just 40% for Ireland. However, that places us with the likes of Sweden and Denmark, but well behind leaders Portugal.

To put that in a wider context, despite the faith European organisations are putting in the potential for AI to impact their core business, only 4% of respondents regarded themselves as advanced in the use or implementation of AI.

Planning and piloting
While many organisations see the potential of AI, the research suggests that Irish organisations are falling behind European counterparts in AI implementation and investment, but this is somewhat offset by the fact that three quarters of Irish organisations say they are in planning or piloting phases.

The vast majority (89%) of all respondents, 85% in Ireland, expect AI to generate business benefits by optimising their companies’ operations in the future.

The Dublin Airport Authority is quoted in the research report as saying “AI will be a key driver of technology within the aviation industry. Machine Learning is already finding its way into our resource planning and passenger experience front end systems”.

Almost three quarters (74%) of respondents expect AI to be key in engaging customers, with more than half (56%) expecting AI to have a high impact or a very high impact on business areas that are, as yet, “entirely unknown to the company today”.

The research report states that despite the apparent sizeable impact that companies expect from AI, only a very small proportion of companies, constituting 4% of the total sample, say that AI is actively contributing to “many processes in the company and is enabling quite advanced tasks”.

Good understanding
Speaking to TechPro, Kieran McCorry, national technology officer for Microsoft Ireland, said he believed that there was a good general understanding of AI technologies and their potential for digital transformation, despite the tendency for vendors to ‘AI wash’ their offerings.

“The detail would suggest a good knowledge of the potential of the technologies,” he argues.

He said AI is already being effective in areas such as healthcare with intelligent chatbots that are contributing to the understanding of patient flows, allowing natural language interactions from clinicians. In the energy space, he said, the technologies are providing greater understanding of power generation needs based on distribution and consumption monitoring. Sport too, including  GAA and rugby, is benefiting, from athlete monitoring to statistical and video analysis.

“We are at a really interesting moment where businesses can begin to consume these technologies,” said McCorry.

This is due, he says, to a conjunction of circumstances. The development of algorithmic elements of the technologies, as well as cloud platforms and the availability of data in the qualities and quantities needed, have combined to allow these technologies to produce real results for those organisations that have engaged.

Emotional intelligence
Another point of note, said McCorry, was that those organisations that had the common trait of high Emotional Intelligence (EQ), characterised as the ability to understand emotions that impact what motivates people and create an open and collaborative environment, were more likely to have successfully implemented AI. He said this correlated with recent Microsoft research on digital culture which identified the impact of culture on successful technology adoption. However, in Ireland, the research revealed that Irish companies rate emotional intelligence as a lower imperative than the European aggregate.

Some key challenges were identified for successful AI adoption in Irish organisations. Firstly, C level and board inertia, with the majority (85%) of companies seeing AI as among the most important items on their agenda at C-suite level, but this was not reflected at the board level.

There is also something of an uncoordinated AI approach, with only a small proportion of the Irish companies managing AI via a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach.

Data management too is an issue, as only a small number of Irish organisations see themselves as highly competent in data management, well below the European aggregate.

Information overload is an issue, for more than half of Irish organisations in AI implementation, along with the technical demands of dealing with large data bases and the ability to derive actionable insights.

Finally, the pace of change of technology is an issue for more than half of respondents who also expressed concern about keeping up with the demands placed by AI.

Testing the waters
“The report findings show that Irish organisations are clearly testing the waters with AI but are less mature than other European markets when it comes to actively piloting AI initiatives,” said Simon MacAllister, partner, EY Ireland.

“On the other hand, it is promising to see that AI appears to be higher on the C-suite agenda in Ireland, showing that there is clearly an appetite among senior decision-makers to drive the agenda forward. Businesses in Ireland now need to get their hands dirty with AI, either internally or in partnership with strategic vendors, to drive AI adoption and understand its full potential to harness the power of humans, allowing them to focus on the delivery of high-value work.”

Five steps
Analysis from Microsoft and EY outlined five key steps for success with mature AI programmes.

Choose a step-by-step approach in getting familiar with AI – Prioritise between engaging customers, optimising operations, empowering employees and/or transforming products and services to add clarity, structure the AI discussion, and ensure a consistent approach to taking the company to the next AI level.

Display executive leadership and approach AI from a position of strength – Executives must understand AI essentials and communicate a clear AI ambition to the organisation. Sponsor AI adoption on all levels, from the board through management to the employees. Executives must make nimble, informed decisions about where and how to employ AI in their business.

Hire new skills ahead of the curve – or focus relentlessly on training existing talent – If finding external talent is difficult, train the engineers you already have on a new AI model. Regardless of strategy, focusing relentlessly on building required skills and talent is key to staying ahead and progressing along the learning curve.

Build a data strategy and technology roadmap purposefully fit-for-AI – Build your AI resources around data engineers, data scientists, and software engineers who develop algorithms and implement applications. Ensure your structure and governance harness the power of data, and that your technology infrastructure across products, solutions, and applications enables your AI priorities.

Beyond all, engender trust and enable human ingenuity – Humans are the real heroes of AI – design experiences that augment and unlock human potential. Opt for a “people first, technology second” approach. Design AI for where and how people work, play and live, tailoring experiences to how people use technology, respecting differences, and celebrating the diversity of how people engage, thereby putting people first, reflects human values and promotes trust in AI solutions.

 

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