A new study reveals that only 11% of organisations in South Africa are fully prepared to deploy and leverage artificial intelligence (AI), despite businesses being almost unanimous that there is increased urgency to deploy AI-powered technologies.
According to Cisco’s inaugural “AI Readiness Index”, due to be released this week, companies here face gaps across six key business pillars: strategy, infrastructure, data, governance, talent and culture.
South Africa was one of 30 countries included in the 8000-respondent study, which shows it is broadly on par with the rest of the world in lack of AI Readiness, but lagging substantially in strategy and infrastructure readiness. The global average for businesses being fully prepared, and therefore classified as “Pacesetters”, is a mere 14%.
South Africa does, however, have a higher proportion of companies classified as “Chasers” – 40%, compared to a global average of 34%. Only 1% are defined as “Laggards”, compared to a global average of 4%.
“AI readiness has quickly ascended to become a top business priority, no matter the size or sector,” Cisco South Africa GM Smangele Nkosi told Business Times. “The pressure is being felt and no one wants to be left behind as we catapult into the future. At the same time, AI readiness is not a one-dimensional conversation. IT infrastructure, including networks, compute resources and cybersecurity, need to be assessed.”
Coincidentally, the past week saw a number of new infrastructure initiatives unveiled during the AfricaTech conference and expo in Cape Town.
In the most significant of these, Liquid C2, sister company of Liquid Intelligent Technologies and part of the pan-African data centre operator Cassava, announced a strategic partnership with Google Cloud, aimed at enhancing Liquid’s cloud and cyber security offerings.
“Our partnership with Google will enable our enterprise, public and SME customers to harness the power of Google Cloud to enhance their data analytics and security postures and have access to the latest AI-driven tools,” said Oswald Jumira, CEO of Liquid C2.
Umesh Vemuri, VP of strategic pursuits at Google Cloud, said at the event the deal would build on the “Google for Africa” commitment to invest US$1-billion in the region.
Jumira told Business Times: “We all agree that the main input for AI is actually data. The infrastructure we built from a Liquid Intelligent Technologies perspective and Liquid C2, is all enabling the free flow of data between organisations, together with their customers, and us with our customers. We are now harnessing this data in the cloud.
“This is where AI capabilities and data analytics capabilities become more relevant and working with Google enables us to really mine this data, create intelligence out of it, and offer more bespoke solutions to our customers across the country.”
The Liquid-Google tie-up is likely to be one of numerous such partnerships aimed at addressing infrastructure challenges in South Africa and across the continent. According to the Cisco study, 95% of businesses globally are aware that AI will increase infrastructure workloads, but in South Africa only 37% of organizations consider their infrastructure highly scalable.
Exactly half of respondents said they had limited or no scalability for meeting new AI challenges within their current IT infrastructures. To accommodate AI’s increased power and computing demands, 86% of companies will require more advanced data centre processors to support current and future AI workloads.
The Cisco AI Readiness Index shows that, in the Strategy area, 17% of South African companies are Pacesetters in AI – but compared to a global average of 29%. This country fares worst in the infrastructure category, with 10% being Pacesetters, compared to 17% globally.
However, there was positive news, said Nkosi.
“The Index revealed that companies in South Africa are taking many proactive measures to prepare for an AI-centric future. When it comes to building AI strategies, 96% of organizations are already in the process of developing an AI strategy.”
A near-unanimous 98% of respondents said the urgency to deploy AI technologies in their organisation had increased in the past six months, with IT infrastructure and cybersecurity the top priority areas for AI deployments.
59% of respondents in South Africa believe they have a maximum of one year to implement an AI strategy before their organisation begins to incur significant negative business impact.
Liz Centoni, Cisco executive vice president and chief strategy officer, told Business Times: “The race to AI Readiness is on, with organisations under intense pressure to shift from strategic planning to execution mode in order to capitalise on the transformative potential that AI represents.”