Human and robots working in unison by 2020 – study

New research from Genpact, the global professional services firm, has suggested that nearly half of senior leaders in UK companies (48%) believe their employees will be comfortable with working robots by 2020. Despite this optimistic outlook, a significantly smaller fraction of businesses is providing adequate re-skilling and training to address technology disruption.

The global study revealed a striking disconnect between the expectations of how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the future of work, and the actions UK companies are taking in preparing their workforces and organisations for that future.

While 81% of respondents from UK organisations said they believe AI will have an impact on their business by 2020 – with over half (58%) seeing this impact as significant or transformative – the research suggests that companies need to overcome internal barriers and adopt widespread organisational change in order to be successful.

>See also: Why robots won’t replace humans

“CxOs often struggle with how to achieve strong business impact from AI. The survey findings underscore what we see with our clients daily – success won’t come simply from technology alone,” said N.V. ‘Tiger’ Tyagarajan, president and chief executive officer, Genpact.

“Companies must train their workforce – at all levels – and encourage the right corporate culture. Collaboration between humans and machines has the power to improve customer experiences, grow revenue, and create new jobs – but only if senior management has the vision to proactively prepare and embrace change.”

Resistance from above

While recent news reports raise alarms about the average worker’s wariness of AI, the study shows management’s views are the exact opposite. Over a third (36%) of respondents from UK businesses indicate senior management is the group that most strongly resists the adoption and usage of AI-related technologies, compared with only 3% who cite entry-level workers.

Lack of training

As well as expecting employees to be comfortable with working with robots by 2020, over half of the UK respondents (56%) surveyed also expressed that their employees would be willing to learn new skills to take advantage of AI.

>See also: The hive mind: the need for humans in an AI and data world

Yet despite this willingness to learn new skills, just under a third of UK companies (32%) currently provide their employees with re-skilling options, such as training, seminars and workshops. Furthermore, one in five (20%) have no plans to provide re-skilling options to workers.

Breaking barriers: AI leaders embrace talent + technology

On a global scale, the research identified that the top three barriers to AI adoption across organisations are information security concerns, lack of clarity about where to apply AI most effectively, and silos within the organisation, especially between information technology and other functions.

AI leaders (companies realising the most impact from AI) clearly understand that overcoming these barriers requires much more than just having leading-edge technology. Leaders dramatically excel over AI laggards (those reporting the lowest business outcomes from this technology) in encouraging a culture that fosters success. For example:

• Nearly three quarters (71%) of leaders allocate sufficient resources and funding toward AI-related technologies, compared to only 9% of laggards.
• More than half (53%) of leaders foster a training and development culture to learn new skills, compared to 15% of laggards.

>See also: Rise in flexible working coincides with the rise of robots

• Almost 60% of leaders say their middle managers think out of the box and encourage innovation, compared to only 14% of laggards.

AI leaders also have a strong focus on process:

• Two-thirds of leaders have processes and systems that are well documented with standard operational procedures, compared to 20% of laggards.
• Leaders are seven times more likely to have large amounts of customer data they can easily share across all departments (58% of leaders versus 14% of laggards).

“Process design and talent are keys to success with AI,” said Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital officer, Genpact. “One provides the catalyst for extracting the value from AI technologies; the other provides the amplifier to drive it at scale for the enterprise. Without one or the other, the chemistry of AI success just doesn’t work.”

Aiming AI for top line growth: AI leaders excel in customer experience and revenue impact

When looking at AI benefits, leaders have the clear edge in moving beyond the more expected cost-cutting measures. While a third of all respondents cite cost savings as a benefit, more than 40% of leaders say AI improves the customer experience.

>See also: The robots are coming: better get used to it 

Leaders also are almost twice as likely to achieve increased revenues from AI (45% of leaders, compared to 25% of all respondents) – a clear indication that using AI to transform the customer experience also delivers competitive differentiation.

Moreover, when asked to fast forward three years, 87% of all respondents expect that AI will bring better customer experiences. This underscores how companies increasingly plan to throw out their old playbook and replace it with AI – a nod toward the importance of imaginative, personalised, and immersive customer experiences.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...