Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly gaining ground, often bolstered by early adopters who are realizing a competitive advantage and generating a positive return on their investment. Successful applications range from tech companies counting on AI algorithms to help reduce customer frustration and churn to manufacturing companies relying on AI to improve efficiencies and business processes. The AI transformation continues to gain momentum, as more than half (56%) of executives polled in Deloitte’s survey–State of AI in the Enterprise, 2nd Edition–think that AI will transform their company within three years.
Machine learning and complex variant deep-learning neural networks are the foundation of AI today. Companies with the know-how can use them to analyze huge data sets, find patterns, and make accurate predictions. Machine learning powers virtual assistants, facial recognition, and autonomous vehicles, and can be applied to a wide variety of operations.
A problem with machine learning is that it requires technical expertise. In the Deloitte survey, 69% of respondents say their AI skills gap is moderate to extreme. Technical expertise is necessary but not sufficient for AI success, however. For many early adopters who have been successful with AI, the secret lies in their diverse resources: they have access to huge troves of data, AI experts who can develop algorithms and interpret results, and business leaders who understand how to apply AI to their operations.
Cloud-based AI Can Clear the Path for Mass Adoption
Fortunately, cloud-based software and services with embedded AI are making AI easier for non-experts to use. With cloud-based AI, the stage is being set for mass adoption. There are two main ways cloud is moving AI into the mainstream: embedded AI and cloud-based AI services (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Enterprise software represents the most popular—and easiest—path to AI; Deloitte State of AI in the Enterprise, 2nd Edition, 2018.
Enterprise software with embedded AI (used by 59% of early adopters) is leading the way for many organizations. No special skills are required from end users, and no AI researchers or data scientists are needed.
Accessing AI capabilities that are integrated into enterprise software is already a popular way for companies to use AI. SAP Leonardo is being used to help improve customer experiences, while its other tools help make cost forecasting more accurate and automate procurement tasks. Sales reps are using Salesforce Einstein to help prioritize accounts based on likeliness to buy. Workday Financial Management helps automate repetitive, routine functions and supports data-driven, strategic financial management, while Workday People Analytics gives HR professionals insight into workforce trends and an understanding of the drivers behind those trends.
One of the greatest benefits of enterprise software is also one of its biggest drawbacks: it’s widely available, so a lasting—and differentiating—competitive advantage can be harder to achieve.
That’s where AI-based development tools come in. About half (49%) of companies that deploy AI today are using cloud-based development services, and this number is likely to rise as the solutions require fewer AI programming skills.
With AI development tools, companies can maximize the work done by AI experts and data scientists in-house. These tools help them become more productive and allow them to scale their efforts without having to make a huge infrastructure investment. Some services currently available include prebuilt and optimized algorithms, APIs for specific functions, and automated machine learning designed to select and tune the right AI model for a given data set.
Easier Paths to AI Have Come Just in Time
These streamlined ways of using AI are coming at the right time as organizations recognize the value of investing in AI to improve their competitiveness. Sixty-three percent of surveyed executives said their AI initiatives are needed to catch up with their rivals or to open a narrow lead. And the need for adept application of AI for competitive advantage should continue to grow: 11% said that adopting AI is of “critical strategic importance” today, and 42% believe it will be critical two years from now.
Companies without a great deal of AI expertise can still benefit, as user-friendly cloud services continue to improve and proliferate. The message for companies that want to remain competitive is that they need to jump in—and it’s never been easier or more essential to tap into the power of AI.
Read more about what’s behind the growth of AI among early adopters.