Forbes has identified ‘AI everywhere’ as a top technology trend for 2023 and beyond. As you may have witnessed in the past few months, developments by OpenAI’s ChatGPT are bringing this to reality, with generative AI set to change the way people and business do things.
‘AI everywhere’ refers to the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into various aspects of daily life and work, including personal devices, business processes, and decision-making systems. The goal of AI everywhere is to make technology more intelligent and capable of performing tasks previously done by humans, making everyday life and work more efficient, productive, and personalised. The race for businesses to differentiate themselves from competition is on, and the effective use of AI will in many instances be a key decider of the winner.
According to the IBM Global AI Adoption Index 2022 Report, global AI adoption is growing steadily. McKinsey’s Global Survey released in December 2022 confirms IBM’s findings, stating that AI adoption has more than doubled since 2017. Anecdotal evidence, on the other hand, suggests that while there has been some progress in South Africa, there is still a long way to go. Many more organisations need to be intentional about their strategy for AI adoption and use.
Providers are mushrooming with various AI-based services from generating original text to data analysis, customer management and many other solutions, and a clear strategy has become a necessity. AI is having a massive impact on people and business, with far-reaching ramifications, and should not be ignored from a strategic planning point of view. Decision-makers and professionals alike need to be aware of the current state and future potential of AI and strategise about how it can be leveraged to improve processes, enhance customer experiences, and drive growth.
AI in strategy setting
While the organisation needs a strategy for AI, AI can also aid strategy development. AI tools can help avoid biases in decisions, pull insights out of big datasets, and make strategic choices more quickly. While AI and other technologies can’t automate strategy development, there are numerous aspects of strategists’ work and tasks where AI and advanced analytics tools can already bring significant value. A combination of AI and human intelligence in strategy setting can result in a formidable outcome. According to a recent McKinsey survey, only 7% of respondents surveyed use AI in strategy or even financial planning, whereas there was greater use in other areas of the business. A possible reason for the low uptake of AI in strategy is that business leaders could be looking for AI to create a strategy, while AI capabilities are still lagging far behind this expectation.
Nonetheless, there is still an opportunity to utilise AI in the building blocks of the strategy, which could result in a significant improvement. AI could be used for analytics as well as to make diagnostics and predictions in the strategy-setting process. Real-time data analytics, AI-powered machine learning, scaled algorithms across the organisation, and AI-based automations − these are some AI capabilities waiting to be explored in the strategy development process.
A strategy for AI
Things change quickly in today’s business, and so often, AI may need to be used as a tactical response. However, business needs a long-term plan for the use of and interaction with AI. With evidence increasingly showing the benefits of AI, companies need a bold, enterprise-wide strategy that can be championed by the organisation’s highest leadership. AI is being used to automate and streamline financial processes, reduce errors, and improve analysis and decision-making. AI is transforming the way companies operate, automate processes, and enhance customer experiences.
According to a McKinsey’s Global Survey, companies adopting AI are seeing the highest financial returns and continue to pull ahead of competitors. Robotic process automation (RPA) and computer vision (using AI to enable computers and systems to derive meaningful information from digital images, videos, and other visual inputs) are the main aspect of business where most AI capability is being embedded.
Because of the dynamic business circumstances we operate in, a perpetually iterative AI strategy may be necessary. Ways of assessing the AI strategy should be in place to ensure that it remains responsive to ever-changing market and technology developments. Over time, the objective will move away from staying competitive to increasingly using AI and machine learning as competitive differentiators. Sooner or later, all roads will lead to AI, as it will be a crucial driver of sustainable growth, hence the need for a strategy.
Together with an AI strategy, you will also need a solid data strategy. Solid quality data is imperative. Focus on the key aspects of the business strategy that can use the advantages of AI, such as customer and revenue impacting solutions, or enabling employees to be more efficient and effective. Consider no-code and low-code platforms (particularly in the earlier stages) as these become increasingly available and accessible to non-technical employees, often at lower costs.
Your AI strategy
Devising a viable AI strategy can be as complex as the technology itself, but it remains an important part of the business strategy first to remain competitive, and then to win in the market. AI is also relevant to all business sizes with varying, suitable solutions becoming available. While not a magic bullet towards a profit and growth, the advances in AI technology are leading to efficiencies, which can drive costs down, and this is an important consideration to make when planning strategically. Depending on use, AI has the potential to help reduce operating costs and ultimately drive expenditure down, while also improving quality. It can create new processes and improve customer experiences. Another important consideration is that AI is able to automate human-intensive processes, and thus can reduce labour costs or increase productivity. Many businesses wish they had started thinking sooner than they did about their online and internet strategy, in the coming years, there may be many that will wish they had started thinking about their AI strategy a little earlier.
The following are steps that you may adapt and/or follow in setting an AI strategy:
The accountancy profession has an important role to play in enabling AI in the achievement of business objectives. Ensure that AI is adequately considered for suitable tasks in the strategy-setting process and provide responsible and well thought out advice regarding investment in and adoption and use of AI.
Professionals will also be significantly affected by the AI strategy, evolving the way they complete many of their tasks, manage others and lead projects. It is anticipated that role profiles will be modified by the deployment of AI.
- Invest in training and development to ensure that teams have the skills and knowledge to effectively integrate and leverage AI technologies in line with the strategy.
- Adopt a forward-thinking approach to the integration of AI into the business. Embrace new technologies and explore new ways to leverage AI to improve processes, enhance customer experiences, and drive growth.
Tomorrow’s AI leaders are setting their strategies today. Organisations can start with a strategy for low-risk, high-return pilot programmes that are becoming available and then in the longer term, focus on aligning the business strategy to developments around technology and AI specifically. It is important to start and work towards developing or enabling enterprise-wide AI capability and to have AI-appropriate governance for security and risk mitigation.
Bernard Marr, How to develop your artificial intelligence (AI) strategy.
Deloitte, How to create an effective AI strategy.
McKinsey, Artificial intelligence in strategy.
PwC, How to accelerate AI.
TechTarget, How to formulate a winning AI strategy.
Msizi Gwala, Project Director: Public Sector Strategic Initiatives
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