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AI adoption still in early stages

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Research released at the SAS Analytics Experience event in Amsterdam this week shows that challenges ranging from a skills gap to ethical issues are holding back AI.

The hype surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) is intense. But for most European businesses surveyed in a recent study by SAS, the leader in analytics, AI adoption is still in the early or even planning stages. The good news is, the vast majority of organizations have begun to talk about AI, and a few have even begun to implement suitable projects. There is much optimism about the potential of AI, although fewer were confident that their organization was ready to exploit that potential.

It isn’t so much a lack of available technology slowing AI adoption; most attest that there are many options available. More often, the challenges come from a shortage of data science skills to maximize value from emerging AI technology, and deeper organizational and societal obstacles to AI adoption.

These were some of the findings of the Enterprise AI Promise Study, a phone survey of executives from 100 organizations across Europe in banking, insurance, manufacturing, retail, government and other industries. The SAS study was conducted in August to measure how business leaders felt about AI’s potential, how they use it today and plan to use it in the future, and what challenges they face.

The findings were revealed at the SAS Analytics Experience 2017 conference in Amsterdam this week.

Societal challenges

Fifty-five percent of respondents felt that the biggest challenge related to AI was the changing scope of human jobs in light of AI’s automation and autonomy. This potential effect of AI on jobs includes job losses but also the development of new jobs requiring new AI-related skills.

Ethical issues were cited as the second-biggest challenge, with 41 percent of respondents raising questions about whether robots and AI systems should have to work “for the good of humanity” rather than simply for a single company, and how to look after those who lost jobs to AI systems.

Data science team and organizational readiness

Are organizations’ data scientists ready for the challenge of emerging AI? Only 20 percent felt their data science teams were ready, while 19 percent had no data science teams at all.

Recruiting data scientists to build organizational skills was the plan for 28 percent of respondents, while 32 percent said they would build AI skills in their existing analyst teams through training, conferences and workshops.

Additionally, trust emerged as a major challenge in many organizations. Almost half of respondents (49 percent) mentioned cultural challenges due to a lack of trust in AI output and more broadly, a lack of trust in the results of so-called “black box” solutions.

Platform readiness

The study also sought to assess AI readiness in terms of infrastructure required. There was a contrast between those respondents who felt they had the right infrastructure in place for AI (24 percent), and those who felt they needed to update and adapt their current platform for AI (24 percent) or had no specific platform in place to address AI (29 percent).

Oliver Schabenberger, Executive Vice President and Chief Technoloogy Officer at SAS

Oliver Schabenberger, Executive Vice President and Chief Technoloogy Officer at SAS

“We’ve seen incredible advances in making algorithms perform – with stunning accuracy – tasks that a human could do,” said Oliver Schabenberger, Executive Vice President and Chief Technoloogy Officer at SAS. “It is remarkable that an algorithm beat the best Go player in the world. We thought that the game of Go could not be computerized – by man. But now a machine did it for us. Once the system knew the rules, it learned to play, and played better than the best of our species can play. We can use this knowledge to build systems that solve business problems as well or better than the static systems in use today. We can build systems that learn the rules of business, then learn to play by the rules and are designed to then improve. That is what SAS is working on.”

 

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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