Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform the Irish economy.
Recognising its potential, an overwhelming majority of the respondents we contacted while conducting PwC’s 2019 analysis of AI in business believe it is vital that Ireland puts itself at the forefront of the AI revolution, and should invest in the skills and technology needed to adopt AI successfully.
The research, conducted by PwC and the Analytics Institute, shows that the majority of Irish leaders know that AI is going to change their operations in the next five years significantly, or risk losing competitive advantage.
To understand where Irish organisations currently stand on AI development and deployment, we surveyed almost a hundred executives and practitioners about their perspectives on the age of automation, and it is clear from our findings that AI needs to be demystified and woven into the change agenda of Irish organisations.
Our analysis delivered some fascinating results, identifying six priorities every leader must know to implement AI in their organisation successfully.
Understand how AI fits into your business
We believe a critical aspect of getting companies to face up to AI is to make it less daunting. The volume of information about AI is overwhelming and might make the uninitiated believe they are facing the rise of the machines or the end of employment. However, the reality is straightforward and should be a source of inspiration for you.
Once you understand what AI is, you can begin to see its potential. It can support your business strategy, reduce costs, improve products and services and drive efficiencies at every level.
Strategise for your return on investment
Implementing AI requires unity of purpose and commitment from across your organisation. It has the potential to be transformative, so stakeholders from across the business need to be involved in developing a strategy that enables its introduction.
This transformation needs to deliver real returns, so it is in your best interest to create an approach that will generate maximum value and can scale upwards and across your organisation.
Fix the data
AI can be used with data and analytics to better manage risk, help employees make better decisions and automate customer operations. The top priority when integrating AI and analytics systems is to identify and extract valuable insights from the totality of the data your business holds, right across the organisation.
But our survey highlights a significant challenge. Organisations in Ireland are not providing the foundation that AI needs to be successful – robust, reliable and complete data. Only one in eight respondents said that data labelling and standardisation was a top priority for their business.
Build an AI-ready workforce
As more tasks become automatable through AI and sophisticated algorithms, jobs are being redefined and recategorised. A third of people worldwide are worried about losing their jobs to automation, but 74% are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain to remain employable in the future.
More trained users, developers and data scientists are going to be needed to help integrate AI in businesses.
However, the talent impact of AI will not be solved solely from hiring outside of your organisation, from what is already a diminishing pool of skilled talent. You have a built-in talent pool already, and it is in your interest to maximise it.
Make AI responsible
As AI integrates itself into our daily lives, everyone is asking the same question: can we trust AI?
The answer is responsible AI, which incorporates risk mitigation and ethical concerns into algorithms and data sets from the start.
Responsible AI means explainable AI, so that algorithms’ decisions are transparent or at least auditable. It means a control framework to catch problems before they start. It means teams and processes which look for bias in data and models, and which monitor ways malicious actors could “trick” algorithms.
It means considering AI’s impact on employment and the environment. And, it means participation in public-private partnerships and transparent self-regulation so that responsible AI becomes the standard.
AI’s power grows even greater when it is integrated with other technologies, such as analytics, ERP, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain. Helping advanced, predictive and streaming analytics further evolve with AI is a priority.
This convergence can make new data-driven business models more powerful.
Irish businesses need to be much more proactive in introducing AI. However, with every month that passes, local and global competitors are embracing and embedding AI in their businesses faster, putting them at a competitive advantage which will eventually become unassailable.
Put simply: do you want to be AOL or Google?
Darren O’Neill is a partner and AI & Analytics Leader at PwC. A version of this column first appeared on accountancyireland.ie.