Despite acknowledged promise: Fear, uncertainty and doubt surround AI adoption

Global research from Juniper Networks shows consumers and enterprises want more artificial intelligence, but why are three challenges continuing to hinder pulling the trigger?

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Image: iStock/metamorworks

Executives worldwide placed artificial intelligence as a top strategic priority for 2021, yet plans have slowed or been curtailed. Juniper Networks recently released the report, "AI is set to accelerate...is your organization ready?" which addresses this very curious dilemma: Developers, organizations (95%) and consumers know the benefits, welcome and are excited about the potential. But how can companies accelerate their adoption? 

Today's AI

Today, AI's slow rollout includes the automation of daily tasks, such as chatbots for customer service, bank reconciliations and smart workflows for IT trouble ticket management. The aforementioned 95% of organizations believe their companies would benefit from embedding AI into daily operations, products and services. Curiously though, only 6% of C-level leaders reported adoption of AI-powered solutions across their organizations today.

"There are always challenges with new technology, but these concerns should not hold people back from experimenting, learning, moving forward and getting the real benefits that are there. Start by dipping your toes in the water and work to get comfortable before swimming into the deep end," said Sharon Mandell, senior vice president and CIO of Juniper Networks. 

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The top three challenges to embraceable AI adoption

Juniper found the gap lies within the following three challenges, ranked by respondents as the most prescient adoption inhibitors: AI-ready technology stacks, workforce readiness and AI governance.

Respondents were asked to rank developing company value-added AI models and data sets considered "the top technology-related challenge." Ingesting, processing and managing data to feed AI is their No. 1 tech challenge, Juniper's report stated. Financial commitment is essential "in robust cloud solutions and preparation of the right data for AI to use;" 39% of respondents said they're "likely to collect telemetry data to enhance AI to improve user experience, as well as ensure sensitive data is protected in the process." Thirty-four respondents said AI tool capabilities are the most critical to enable AI adoption.

Getting the workforce onboard: 73% of organizations struggle with the preparation and expansion of their workforce to integrate with AI systems. It's the highest priority for the company, C-level respondents reported, to hire people to develop AI capabilities within an organization than it is to train end-users to operate the tools themselves.  

Under the right umbrella: 67% of respondents reported that AI has been identified as a priority by their organizations' leaders for a fall 2021 strategic plan, and 87% of executives agree that organizations have a responsibility to have governance and compliance policies in place to minimize negative impacts of AI, yet executives still ranked establishing AI governance, policies and procedures as one of their lowest priorities. A further 84% of executives agree cross-functional executive sponsorship and involvement is critical for AI to integrate into their products and services. Yet only 7% of executives said they haven't identified a company-wide AI leader to oversee AI strategy and governance. Seventy-four percent of respondents agree that employee satisfaction has increased since implementing AI solutions to assist in their operational tasks.

What AI there is, is very good

The organizations that are early AI adopters cite positive changes like operational efficiencies and enhanced user-experience. Juniper's research found companies that "adopted and harnessed AI are showing real and meaningful outcomes, providing optimism and excitement."

Further research found that as organizations scale their AI capabilities and integrate employees into solutions, user satisfaction steadily rises, and time saved allows employees to focus on value-added tasks that were previously unmanageable.

How to keep competitive

To keep competitive, the industry needs to "Adapt!" Mandell said. "Organizations have only just begun to understand the integration challenges and investment required for AI-ready technology stacks. Ultimately, they need the proper infrastructure as their base foundation for AI. Once they've built the proper base to ingest and process quality and unbiased data, they should focus on ensuring their workforce is armed with the proper skills and tools to support this AI wave. Finally, when it comes to AI adoption, governance, cross-functional and executive involvement are all critical to ensure that AI stays within the business' priorities."

AI's future in business

Looking forward, Mandell said, "While a lot of the fear around AI might still exist, it has the power to unlock our workforce, to enable businesses, to change the world. While there are some barriers to adoption, the optimism around the use of AI in organizations is palpable; AI in the enterprise is set to take off. With almost two-thirds of the organizational leadership surveyed noting that AI is a top priority for their 2021 strategic plans, we can not only expect to see more trials and deployments in the near future, but also watch as AI becomes essential to the business of tomorrow."

Methodology: Juniper surveyed 700 IT global decision makers who have direct involvement in their organization's AI and/or machine-learning plans or actual deployments to assess the attitudes, perceptions and concerns of the technology.

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...