AI: use it or lose out, says Microsoft

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UK firms risk falling behind foreign rivals unless they make more use of AI, warns a new report from software giant Microsoft.

Microsoft’s study – Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI [PDF] – claims that organisations already using AI at scale are performing an average of 11.5 per cent better than those who are not, and this has increased from five percent a year ago.

But it appears there are downsides to this picture, with just 34 per cent of UK business leaders and 20 per cent of employees saying they know how to evaluate the business benefits of their organisation’s AI investments. Worse, only 26 percent of business leaders said they believe the UK has the socio-economic structures in place to become a world leader in AI.

“The UK has a proud history of AI research and development, but when it comes to implementation, we are starting to lag behind the US and China,” said Microsoft UK Chief Operating Officer, Clare Barclay.

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“Political and economic uncertainty can understandably breed caution but in today’s climate, it actually needs to be the catalyst for greater, faster change. It is time for UK organisations across sectors to focus on innovation and in leading the world on AI.”

The wide-ranging report covers a number of areas, but one of the notable findings is a disparity between the perceptions of the management in organisations and their employees when it comes to AI.

This can be seen in the figures stating that 66 percent of leaders in AI-advanced organisations say they are actively supporting employees with the implementation of AI and 76 per cent claim to understand the breadth and depth of AI skills their workforce will need to be successful in the next 12 months.

Conversely, just 11 per cent of workers surveyed said they have completed training to improve their understanding of how to use AI in their job, while 96 said they have never been consulted by their manager about the introduction of AI in their organisation.

What this seems to lead up to is a growing need for AI skills in UK businesses. This was pointed out by a report from analyst Gartner back in July, which identified a lack of relevant skills as the top barrier to adopting AI among 56 per cent of respondents to its survey of IT and business professionals.

Other challenges were listed as understanding AI use cases, and concerns with data scope or quality.

“Finding the right staff skills is a major concern whenever advanced technologies are involved,” said Gartner research vice president Jim Hare.

“The rising number of AI projects means that organisations may need to reorganise internally to make sure that AI projects are properly staffed and funded. It is a best practice to establish an AI Center of Excellence to distribute skills, obtain funding, set priorities and share best practices in the best possible way.”

The takeaway message for developers seems to be: start working on your AI skills, if you have not already done so.

For organisations, Microsoft’s Barclay has this message:

“The successful organisations will be the ones that transform both technically and culturally, equipping their people with the skills and knowledge to become the best competitive asset they have. Human ingenuity is what will make the difference – AI alone isn’t enough.”

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