Many organisations across the region are rethinking their operations and strategy to adapt to an increasingly digital world; and turning to the new frontier of AI-driven transformation to become more intelligent enterprises.
How can AI be included as part of a broader business strategy for digital transformation and what does it take to make AI work?
iTNews Asia discusses with Newton Smith, Vice President, Digital Business and Technology at Cognizant, on ways we can get AI done right.
iTNews Asia: How has AI been incorporated in APAC enterprises? Has the pandemic made the use of AI more pressing?
AI has evolved from an exciting technology into a critical business tool. Cognizant recently surveyed 1,200 senior executives worldwide to understand how AI is being deployed in an increasingly uncertain world.
Notably — across all industries in APAC — 71% of respondents see AI as an essential ingredient for business success, and 45% consider themselves to be either in the leaders or advancers category, suggesting the potential for sustained growth of AI adoption in the region.
AI is currently being deployed to reduce costs, speed up decision cycles, and help identify emerging opportunities for innovation and disruption. More recently, AI has proven to be a significant boon in the race to discover the COVID-19 vaccine.
By utilising AI-enabled systems, researchers were able to churn through years-worth of data to derive actionable insights on potential cures within months. In Singapore, some healthcare institutions already use AI to predict whether patients are likely to befall risks and allow management to take the necessary preventative measures.
From automating driverless cars and detecting digital threats to predicting profitable market segments for specific products, AI’s potential has come far enough that it is only limited by human imagination, with the pandemic set to accelerate its adoption.
iTNews Asia: What in your perspective has been the key takeaways and lessons learned?
One of the key takeaways for organisations looking to deploy AI is to bear in mind that any corporate AI strategy should always be part of a broader business strategy for digital transformation. This means incorporating key business metrics to ensure that AI helps the organisation maintain an unwavering focus on business outcomes.
Secondly, AI is only as good as the data it accesses. For businesses, it is critical to get a holistic view of data and use data analytics to drive decision-making across the organisation. Build a data-driven organisation by using modern data management techniques and analytics effectively and encouraging a culture of insights-driven decision-making.
Lastly, businesses need to employ external partnerships as AI levers to bring in the necessary technology, talent, and expertise to help progress along the AI journey. Many AI efforts get bogged down in lengthy technology procurement processes, while some businesses may not have an open cloud environment to experiment with machine data. Where possible, businesses can look at creating a robust set of partnerships that provide access to continuously advancing AI technologies.
iTNews Asia: Across the Asia Pacific, does a city or country need to be more developed and smarter to benefit most from AI? How can AI help developing cities?
Countries at any stage of economic development can benefit from AI. The beauty of AI is that it is flexible and can be adapted to address specific challenges. Emerging markets have seen the rapid implementation of a wide range of commercial use-cases for AI, ranging from manufacturing and energy to education and financial services. One example is crop management within the agricultural sector.
Farmers can use AI and IoT sensors to gather real-time data on soil conditions to learn more about rainfall, temperature, and other metrics to predict irrigation needs better and improve crop yields. AI sensors also boost water conservation while ensuring crops aren’t over-or under-watered.
Businesses — or countries — that are further along their AI adoption can then look to the technology to bring their organisations and public infrastructure to the next level.
For example, the city of Da Nang in Vietnam uses e-governance and public service delivery to keep its citizens engaged, and will soon implement AI-driven chatbot services to provide real-time public service information. A simple but game-changing application of AI as the city strides toward becoming an eco-smart urban area, a hub for start-ups and innovation and one of the most liveable cities in Asia.
While the concerns regarding job losses associated with the rise of AI are not unfounded ― its repercussions are overblown. AI is expected to create new jobs over the next ten years, even as repetitive tasks are automated.
- Newton Smith, Vice President, Digital Business and Technology at Cognizant
iTNews Asia: As AI demonstrates its benefits within organisations, how can businesses assure their workforce that AI will not be displacing them – especially when job security is a concern?
This is the era of human-machine collaboration, and companies must be prepared and willing to adopt a task-based approach towards work. Organisations will have to firstly deconstruct jobs into tasks and identify which tasks are best performed by humans versus machines.
In doing so, businesses will also see that it is not whole jobs being automated but certain aspects of the job. Cognizant predicts that 75% of work will be augmented ― not obliterated ― by intelligent machines.
Employees no longer have to worry about performing repetitive tasks, and instead focus their energies on higher-value tasks ― brainstorming, complex problem-solving, ideation, and so on. Even the smartest machines are not supplied with decision-making skills or creative thinking — skills which continue to be highly sought after by recruiters globally.
Indeed, while the concerns regarding job losses associated with the rise of AI are not unfounded ― its repercussions are overblown. AI is expected to create new jobs over the next ten years, even as repetitive tasks are automated.
These jobs will be built around data and how it can be deployed to create new experiences. Businesses must therefore strive to create a new organisational mindset because, without one, they risk losing their ability to compete.
iTNewsAsia: How do other APAC countries compare to Singapore with regard to the AI talent gap? How have countries addressed this talent shortage?
Singapore has the highest number of AI staff with a percentage of total employees at 2.36%, as compared to Australia and China at the lowest with 1.95% and 1.96%, respectively.
Increasingly, we see that companies in the region are using a three-pronged approach to address skills shortcomings: upskilling programmes, partnerships, and out-tasking. For example, in Japan, companies are looking to grow talent internally rather than through mergers and acquisitions, or outsourcing.
Countries can also work closely in partnerships with academic institutions and government policymakers to boost STEM programmes to help companies in these countries close the talent gap.
In addition, governments and companies need to drive greater awareness of the career opportunities that exist today and in the years ahead – making students aware of these careers to encourage their course choices and career plans as well as developing learning roadmaps for AI that focus on data, analytics, and business will help create greater interest and supply.
iTNews Asia: In implementing AI, data privacy could be an issue. How have companies ensured that data privacy is safeguarded despite the implementation of AI?
Data privacy is indeed a barrier to overcome for many AI projects in the region, with 32% of organisations seeing it as one of their top 10 challenges.
In light of this, it is key that businesses adopt greater integrity when it comes to storage and protection of their data. Data fundamentals, such as integrity, quality, and security, have been shown to be a bigger concern in APAC than other regions. This could be because existing legacy systems have been unable to keep pace with the rapid rate at which enterprise data has expanded, impacting the mainstreaming of digital technologies.
As such, business leaders should firstly know where their data is and how it is being used. The biggest mistake that many business leaders make is that they do not know how much data they have and where it is being stored.
By identifying an organisation’s data flow and its vulnerable points, companies can implement measures that can address any current challenges. When IT teams are aware of these gaps, businesses can implement measures such as sophisticated encryption methods for all sensitive data.
With businesses interacting online with customers more than ever, trust becomes the core to successful partnerships and protecting digital data becomes central to the success of a business.