Image: Deloitte

In the age of digital transformation, an increasing number of organizations are looking to tap artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to streamline day-to-day operations and revolutionize their business models. Last week, the consulting firm, Deloitte, released its third annual “State of AI in the Enterprise.” The report gives a detailed look at the ways in which organizations are utilizing AI and provides insights into concerns shaping enterprise adoption moving forward.

Varying degrees of AI adoption

The Deloitte survey offers a detailed overview of AI adoption across the integration spectrum. To better understand attitudes alongside adoption, enterprises are divided into three smaller subsects—seasoned adopters, skilled adopters, and starters.

Seasoned adopters are organizations with a high level of AI maturity. Skilled adopters are enterprises that have implemented multiple AI systems but have less maturity than seasoned adopters. Starters are those organizations that are just beginning to work AI solutions into their business models. The landscape of seasoned, skilled, and starters has shifted markedly since Deloitte’s last 2018 survey.

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In the latest survey, seasoned adopters represent 26% of respondents up from 21% in 2018. Skilled adopters account for 47% in the latest survey, up from 43% in 2018. Lastly, while starters represented about one-third (36%) of respondents in 2018, these organizations now account for only 27% of respondents in the latest survey. This illustrates an overall shift from a realm predominantly defined by early adopters and skilled adopters to an arena with a much higher level of AI maturity.

Jeff Loucks, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media, and Telecommunications, said, “I think that the early adopter phase is ending, in that it’s easier to acquire the technology. You don’t need as much expertise.”

“A few years ago,” Loucks added, “if you wanted to build AI applications, you needed to have teams of AI researchers, and AI-specific data scientists, and programmers who are able to do that work themselves, but now there are so many other options.”

Staying competitive as AI maturity increases

Simply utilizing AI may have been a satisfactory step in previous years, however, now organizations must begin to leverage these technologies in new ways to maintain their industry advantage. This represents a shift in the ways organizations can move from simply using AI to increase efficiency to embrace AI to create new products and services.

“The seasoned adopters are using artificial intelligence in a more strategic way. Yes, you want to make what you’re doing now more efficient, but you want to create those new products and services that are going to differentiate you in the marketplace. You want to work on your existing products and services, of course, but [also] new products and services,” Loucks said.

AI technology risks and regulation

The report also focuses on concerns among enterprises associated with AI risks and potential future regulation. Many adopters are concerned about risks associated with AI implementation. In fact, virtually all of the respondents (95%) expressed concern regarding potential ethical risks associated with AI solutions. Of these general risks, cybersecurity remains the top AI concern.

Additionally, more than half (56%) of respondents said their organizations were “slowing adoption of AI technologies because of the emerging risks, and the same proportion believe that negative public perceptions will slow or stop adoption of some AI technologies.”

“As the use of AI becomes more ubiquitous, moving swiftly, safely, and ethically is going to become a key competitive advantage, and some of the main risks that they identified were cyber risk, AI failures that are affecting operations, and then not keeping up with shifting regulations, especially around data privacy,” Loucks said.

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Many respondents are also considering potential future AI regulation as part of their ongoing and future plans. Nearly 6 in 10 adopters (57%) expressed “major” or “extreme” concern “about how new and changing regulations could impact their AI initiatives.”

While the majority of respondents (62%) believe the government should “heavily regulate” these technologies, 62% felt that such regulation could hinder innovation in the future. Organizations with a higher level of AI maturity may be better positioned to adapt in an environment of new and shifting AI regulation.

“If and when there’s regulation that comes to pass, the early adopter, the smarter adopter will basically be best positioned to know where they’re using the technology, how they’re using the technology, and how they need to form into whatever regulation [comes about] afterward,” said Paul Silverglate, vice chairman at Deloitte LLP.

The future of digital transformation

Due to the coronavirus, a number of organizations have been forced to transition from the traditional workplace to the digital office. In recent weeks, some organizations have made long-term commitments to this remote business model. These sudden changes across industries are accelerating digital transformation. These factors in tandem could set the pace for the new standard for AI maturity.

“When you combine those two things, you combine this technology and you combine people’s kind of reimagining of what you can do in a virtual environment and in a digital environment, I think that we’re just scratching the surface of what the power of AI would be in the organization,” Silverglate said.