In a poll of close to 100 top Canadian chief financial officers (CFOs) and audit chairs at a dinner last night, global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson and the Institute of Corporate Directors found that artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the emerging trends requiring businesses to rethink their business strategy – yet adoption among Canadian organizations remains at an all-time low. As the mandate of the CFO evolves to include responsibilities far beyond traditional finance, CFOs are increasingly being called to play a strategic role in overseeing or closely supporting the adoption and implementation of key transformation initiatives such as AI.

AI has evolved as a powerful tool that organizations are beginning to leverage to increase their abilities to identify patterns and predict outcomes with greater accuracy to help guide strategic decision making. Today, organizations are recognizing the importance of this; the majority of respondents polled think that digital transformation is critical (49 per cent) or important (30 per cent) to their organization’s future growth.

However, when faced with adoption, CFOs and audit chairs are fearful of their ability to effectively navigate the shift. When asked if Canadian CFOs are prepared to champion the next wave of technological change, a mere 11 per cent of polling respondents claimed they were well prepared or very well prepared – compared to close to half who claimed they were unprepared (42 per cent) or somewhat prepared (41 per cent). 

“There is a clear gap when it comes to the opportunities presented by AI and an organization being ready to harness the power of the technology,” said Ross Woledge, Partner and Head of the CFO Practice at Odgers Berndtson. “On one hand, CFOs see a tremendous value creation opportunity with respect to AI, yet on the other, face a daunting challenge of legacy systems and disorganized data which will hamper their ability to leverage the technology. Our view is that CFOs have the skillset to take the lead on driving the business case for AI adoption. They are well positioned to help their organizations get out in front of this.”

Confidence in their organization’s capability to successfully implement AI was mixed across those polled. Close to one quarter of respondents were equally confident (27 per cent), on the fence (25 per cent) and concerned (24 per cent) about their ability to adopt the technology, while 14 per cent stated that they were terrified.

This can be attributed directly to a lack of confidence in talent with AI-specific expertise; 70 per cent of respondents did not have confidence in their board’s skillset to support an AI transformation strategy, while separately, 43 per cent cited lack of leadership expertise to introduce the technology as the top concern with respect to implementation. This surpassed cost versus return on investment (20 per cent), data governance (19 per cent), lack of buy-in by the CEO and board (11 per cent) and privacy concerns (eight per cent).

“CFOs are well advised to prioritize data strategy and AI with a view of creating value for the organization,” continued Woledge. “AI adoption should be of top concern for business leaders today, who will otherwise face the risk of lagging behind competitors or being disrupted. On a positive note, we found that AI adoption is on the radar of most CFOs and audit chairs, with close to half (44 per cent) thinking about implementation.”

Beyond digital transformation, looking forward business leaders remain relatively optimistic about Canadian growth in the coming year. When asked about expected GDP by December 31, 2019, the majority of respondents expected growth of two-to-three per cent (47 per cent) or one-to-two per cent (34 per cent). Only five per cent of those polled expect the economy to remain flat or in a recession, respectively.

 

This release was originally published by Odgers Berndtson on Canada News Wire on October 4th.

 

Pictured above (from left to right), the event's expert panel moderated by Ross Woledge: Jodi Wallis (Managing Director, AI, Accenture), Eli Fathi (CEO & Co-Founder, Mindbridge.ai) and Colleen Johnston (Former CFO, TB Bank Group)

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