Managers are definitely ready for AI, so what’s stopping its advance?

21 Jul 2020

Managers are definitely ready for AI, so what’s stopping its advance?

Surveys show managers are happy to embrace AI, but there is a good reason why so many organisations are lagging.

Introducing AI as part of a digitalisation strategy can supercharge a company’s performance with the right expertise and planning.

But are company leaders ready to embrace digital transformation and AI?

According to Odgers Berndtson’s 2019/2020 Manager Barometer — a survey of around 2,400 executives from companies in a variety of industries and sizes across Germany, Austria and Switzerland — they certainly are.

The Manager Barometer collected data around three questions. How are companies currently using AI? What opportunities and risks do managers associate with these new technologies? And how do managers think AI will affect their own roles and their teams?

The results indicate that managers — especially Millennial managers — are optimistic about the transformational potential of AI. They are excited about the advantages and opportunities that will flow from its implementation.

AI’s  30 trillion euro promise

According to the Manager Barometer, around three-quarters of managers are positive and open-minded about the introduction of AI technologies. They have good reason to feel that way.

The Harvard Business Review predicts that the adoption of artificial intelligence technologies could add over €10 trillion to the global economy over the next decade.

Some of the things further driving that optimism are a belief that the adoption of AI will create jobs, make existing jobs more dynamic and creative, and optimise processes.

AI as a job creator

It’s a common trope that robots are coming to steal our jobs. But of the managers surveyed, only 10% said they expect job losses to result from the introduction of AI-oriented applications. And the small number of managers (2%) who are sceptical about AI are most concerned about security and liability risks, and increasing surveillance, not job loss.

The vast majority (over 70%) of managers assume that the use of AI will actually create new jobs and make existing job profiles more dynamic.

Most managers predict the adoption of AI will help them grow as a leader and learn new skills.

However, most managers did not see AI interfering in the interpersonal aspects of their management role such as when they communicate and interact with their teams. When it comes to people management and relationship building, managers do not see AI as a threat.

“It is pivotal for the adoption of AI and for a successful implementation that the technology and the consequences it has on organisation, processes, culture etc. are welcomed with the right balance of curiosity and critical reflection” says Markus Trost, who is representing Odgers Berndtson on Partner Level at Applied AI, one of Europe’s largest organisations around the application of artificial intelligence, and Partner in the Technology Practice.

AI as an efficiency enhancer

According to the Manager Barometer, over 40% of managers say that the use of AI will have a positive impact on the success of their company. In this regard, managers are most positive about the impact of AI on the achievement of corporate goals and streamlining organizational processes.

Half of the managers surveyed see process optimization and efficiency gains as the most important advantages flowing from the adoption of AI technologies. For example, AI could be used to monitor investment markets or assess and respond to customer requests. 75% of respondents predict that the implementation of AI will increase productivity in their teams.

In addition, over 35% of managers said that they would welcome having AI take on repetitive tasks, which would give them more time to spend on creative tasks.

Many companies are already seeing efficiency gains from AI. According to the Manager Barometer, 60% of companies are using AI in selected parts of their business or in pilot projects. And one-third of the managers surveyed said they are currently involved in the implementation of digital technologies for their employer.

Lag in digitisation preventing uptake of AI

Despite managers reporting that they are ready to embrace digital technologies, most don’t think their company is prepared to embed AI fully into its business model.

A basic level of digitisation is required before a company can usefully move forward in implementing AI technologies. While managers continue to report that digitisation is important for the success of their business, overall, they are unsatisfied with the pace of digital technology implementation.

In fact, only 23% of managers think their company has the appropriate infrastructure in place today to enable the adoption of AI.

For a start, most managers feel that further training needs to be offered and that further thought needs to be put into the ethical handling of data.

“Given the vast opportunities applied AI offers, companies will need to speed up their AI initiatives. Hence, we are soon going to see numerous companies install ‘Chief AI Officers’ in order to drive the technological change.“ says Daniel Nerlich, Managing Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany. So far, when it comes to investing in AI, companies have been cautious and conservative. While AI has been pursued more readily by companies in the telecommunications, media and technology sector, the extent to which AI has been adopted across all industries remains quite low.

“Despite some encouraging examples, the majority of companies struggle even in the first step to develop an AI strategy. If companies start to experiment with AI without a solid strategic fundament, they often generate use cases that do not add value in the strategic dimensions and therewith simply burn money. Post-Covid 19 investments should foresee an investment in a proper AI strategy and the necessary organisation and technology in order to be able to benefit from this game-changing technology” advises Markus Trost.

But given managers’ evident willingness to embrace digital technology in order to grow and optimise their business, now is a good time to consider what AI has to offer and to put these technologies to work.

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