By Dr. Rohini Srivathsa, National Technology Officer, Microsoft India
As we look to rebound and reimagine the future after months of economic fluidity, digital acceleration will play a key role in rebooting enterprises and unlocking growth. The pandemic has had a significant impact on how we live and work, and there have been significant changes in the way organizations function. While many aspects of business may never be the same; the one constant to help people and organizations adapt, reinvent, and transform is the power of digital transformation.
Enterprises today are focused on keeping employees safe while addressing and delivering on the essential requirements of their customers. Our conversations with our customers and partners also focus on how best to rebound and drive recovery as we emerge from this crisis.
The world is digitally transforming at an extraordinary pace. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently observed during our earnings announcement, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly at the heart of digital transformation. AI helps us discover, learn, ideate, and make decisions. It makes business operations more efficient, enhances product and service development, enables new customer experiences, and more. In some industries, like healthcare, it’s helping improve and even save lives.
With a large number of companies in India having successfully started deploying AI over the last couple of years, there has been accelerated interest from them in examining how AI can bring added business value during this pivotal juncture.
To help all businesses unlock the full potential of AI, we undertook a survey looking at what companies are doing differently to achieve the greatest business advantage. The key takeaway: the companies seeing the greatest value from AI are the ones that are as focused on developing the skills of their people as they are on new AI deployments.
Understanding AI readiness of enterprises
Based on their AI readiness and level of implementation across the organization, we divided enterprises into three categories – Beginners, Intermediates, and Leading. AI Beginners are the companies in which AI has not been explored or used in any way. AI Intermediates are enterprises that are exploring or experimenting with AI, in a limited capacity. Lastly, AI Leading organizations are businesses that have AI at the core of their overall strategy.
AI, skills, and business value
It can be said that the more AI a company leverages, the more value they see from it. Most business leaders agree with this. Among senior leaders from AI Leading businesses in India, 94 percent say they are seeing business value because of AI, as compared to 59 percent of leaders at companies that are at earlier stages of AI usage.
However, the research also reveals that business value does not simply come from incorporating more and more AI. Rather, businesses need to focus on developing skills of their people. All senior executives at Indian AI Leading organizations indicate that they are actively building the skills of their workforce or have plans to do so. Their workforce backs this up with over 93 percent employees confirming that they’ve taken part in reskilling initiatives. Nearly the same number of employees (95 percent) indicated that they are confident their employer is preparing for a world in which AI is everywhere.
It’s also important to note that AI Leading firms are not only focused on hard technology reskilling such as data analytics and programming, but also employees’ skills in areas such as communications, leadership, and negotiations.
I believe there are two key reasons that senior leaders in these companies are looking to cultivate a broad set of skills among their people. First, AI can free people up from repetitive tasks to focus on higher-value activities – whether it’s spending time with customers, brainstorming a new product or service, or focusing on professional development.
Second, AI is great for crunching large data sets and providing insights based on that data, which could lead to business growth. But it requires human creativity, teamwork, and customer-centricity to turn those insights into actions that bring value back to the organization.
Augmenting human capabilities with AI
Although AI is a rapidly developing technology, this data point really caught my attention: 98 percent of senior leaders and 87 percent of employees say they are AI augmented. This means AI is an active agent in helping them be more effective at their jobs.
Nearly 93 percent have said that they are enjoying increased operational efficiencies, with AI picking up simple and repetitive tasks. But what’s especially interesting to see is that the more a company uses AI, the more likely its people are using it to enable new business opportunities. 72 percent AI Leading companies in India are using AI to enable their people to develop new products and services and 53 percent are doing so for improving customer experience. In comparison, 57 percent of AI mature businesses in all surveyed markets are developing new products and services, and less than half (45 percent) of them are using AI to improve customer experience.
The emerging learn-it-all culture in the age of AI
The research suggests that as a company deploys more AI and reskilling initiatives, a learn-it-all culture emerges.
With AI becoming more common among businesses, a clear majority of all employees (98 percent) are highly motivated to acquire or deepen AI-relevant skills. Further, when asked how they would like to spend more time as AI becomes common within their organization, the number-one response from employees was: learning and development. Additionally, they would reinvest the time freed up by AI to deepen their skills and on activities that add strategic value to the business, such as planning, solving, and collaborating.
Employers have also taken cognizance of the inclination of employees towards AI skills. As per the survey, to motivate the workforce in developing new skill sets, senior leaders are willing to compensate the employees for gaining AI expertise. 97 percent business leaders have said that they would either provide financial rewards in some form, fast track promotion or a combination of both for those employees who gain higher level of AI relevant skills.
This culture change is critical. To drive the greatest value from AI, it is important people are open to not only doing things better but also doing things differently. But this cannot happen unless they embrace change and continuous professional development.
AI + skills + culture change = a virtuous circle
We’re seeing a virtuous circle emerge among the companies that are more mature in their adoption of AI. These AI leading firms have seen that having the right skills enables them to unlock more value from AI, which encourages them to extend their use of AI and, in turn, continue up-leveling skills in their organization. The research shows that this is contributing to more innovative company cultures, where people are increasingly focused on bringing value to customers and continuous professional development.
This certainly rings true to me. Having been through our own digital transformation at Microsoft, we’ve undergone a significant culture change where people are laser-focused on customer success and have embraced a real learn-it-all mentality.
KRC Research conducted a random online sample of approximately 12,000 people working within enterprise companies (more than 250 employees), between 12 and 30 March. Within each market the sample was comprised of at least 500 workers and 100 leaders (director level and above). Markets represented include: Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (combined), Hungary, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, India, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.