Irish organisations are falling behind their European counterparts in the advancement of AI. Research from Microsoft, conducted by EY, published today has revealed key stumbling blocks within Irish organisations which could threaten successful AI roll out and ultimately, digital success.

Given the importance of AI in digital transformation in coming years, Microsoft commissioned EY to conduct research on perceptions of AI across Europe. Called Artificial Intelligence in Europe, the report seeks to understand the AI strategies and state of AI within 277 major companies, across seven business sectors and 15 countries in Europe. In-depth interviews were held with 20 organisations based in Ireland. The study follows upon Microsoft’s recent research into how Irish organisations are digitally transforming both in terms of technology and culture.

Overall the EY report found that 65% of organisations expect AI to have a high impact on their core business. However, Irish organisations are falling behind European neighbours in AI implementation and investment. On the flip side, AI in Ireland is ramping up with 75% saying they are in planning or piloting phase.

89% of all respondents, 85% in Ireland, expect AI to generate business benefits by optimising their companies’ operations in the future. This is followed by 74% across Europe that expect AI to be key to engaging customers. 56% of all the companies expect AI to have a high impact or a very high impact on business areas that are “entirely unknown to the company today”. Similarly, 65% of all respondents, expect AI to have a high or a very high impact on the core business.

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’.

Emotional Intelligence Critical to AI success

The report highlighted a key and common trait of companies (80%) that use AI successfully – Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – the ability to understand emotions that impact what motivates people, and to create an open and collaborative environment that empowers people to do their best work. This correlates with recent research on Digital Culture from Microsoft Ireland which identified the impact of culture on successful technology adoption. However, in Ireland, today’s research revealed that Irish companies rate emotional intelligence as a lower imperative than the European aggregate.

Five Challenges to Successful AI Adoption in Irish Organisations

The report also identified five key business and technical challenges that could impact on successful AI adoption:

C Level and Board Inertia – the majority (85%) of companies in Ireland see AI as among the most important items on their agenda. However, while the C-level sees AI as critical, this is not reflected at the board level.
Uncoordinated AI approach – Only a small proportion of the Irish companies manage AI via a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach.
Data Management – only a small number of Irish organisations see themselves as highly competent in data management, which is well below the European aggregate.
Information overload – Over half of Irish organisations fear information overload when it comes to AI implementation and the technical demands of dealing with large data bases and the ability to derive actionable insights.
Pace of AI change – Over half of those interviewed also expressed concern about keeping up with the pace of change and technology demands placed by AI.

Speaking today Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland said: “Advancements in AI are creating new opportunities for businesses in Ireland to accelerate innovation and make it more accessible to everyone. Despite the opportunities which AI can unlock, today’s research shows that organisations in Ireland must close the gap with their European peers in adopting AI to digitally transform and enhance their competitiveness.

While AI presents huge opportunities, we have a responsibility to build a partnership of people and technology if organisations are to successfully deploy and use AI to do and achieve more into the future. The onus is on us – business, government, academia and civil society – to come together to create an open and collaborative culture that supports people with intelligent technology.”

Partner at EY Ireland, Simon MacAllister added, “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. 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.”

Enabling AI in Five Steps

As part of the report, Microsoft and EY analysed what the most successful steps were from companies 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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