Artificial intelligence deployments are rapidly accelerating around the world and organisations in APAC are particularly enamoured with the technology, according to new research from Gartner. But AI applications remain relatively basic and a considerable talent shortage exists.

The percentage of organisations implementing artificial intelligence has tripled in the past 12 months, according to the Gartner’s 2019 CIO survey. Over the last four years it is up 270 per cent.

In the APAC region organisations are implementing AI faster than other regions including North America and Europe. Gartner analysts suggest the speed could be down to a lack of legacy systems allowing APAC to “leapfrog” some technology, and proactive governments in the region like China.

Only seven per cent of APAC CIOs have no interest in AI, less than both North America and EMEA.

Gartner’s data comes form a survey of over 3,000 CIOs including 671 from the APAC region and 161 from ANZ who said AI was one of the most strategically important technologies but remains difficult to understand and implement.

But AI may have reached a tipping point, Gartner says, as the skills gap slowly narrows and uptake increases. 14 per cent of the organisations surveyed said they have already implemented AI, compared to just four per cent a year ago.

Why now for AI uptake?

According to the Gartner, CIOs “seem to be waking up to the impact of AI” and the recent spike in adoption is because AI capabilities have matured to a level where enterprises can implement it with confidence.

However, applications remain restricted largely to “AI-augmented work and decision science”, or what Gartner calls “augmented intelligence”, a far cry from the complex human tasks some envision AI reaching.

But CIOs still named AI as the top game-changer technology in this years survey, dethroning 2018’s number one data and analytics, although the two arguably crossover considerably.

“For leading enterprises, which is a growing group, AI has moved from being an experiment into day-to-day usage,” the Gartner report authors write.

“Most enterprises begin their AI adventure with machine learning or decision support, and that is where Gartner sees the widest adoption.

“If your organisation doesn’t use AI, chances are your competitors are already integrating AI into their core processes.”

A further 77 per cent plan to implement AI within the next three years. 9 per cent of CIOs said they have no interest in the technology.

Source: Gartner – Survey: CIOs Have Awoken to the
Importance of AI

What is AI being used for?

While the uptake in AI has been relatively consistent across regions, an industry breakdown reveals wide variance. On the low end, only around a quarter of CIOs from charities, government and education have deployed AI or plan to do so this year.

At the high end nearly half of insurance (48 per cent), services (46 per cent) and health payers (44 per cent) CIOs have AI initiatives.

In terms of applications, CIOs said chatbots (26 per cent) and process optimisation (26 per cent) are their number one use of AI. More advanced applications like smart robots (8 per cent) and self-driving vehicles (3 per cent) are less popular, adding weight to Gartner’s claim that AI applications may be more reliable but remain relatively basic.

AI skills shortage

Talent remains a key area of concern for information chiefs. The survey suggests AI suffers from “acute talent shortages”, with 54 per cent of CIOs saying a lack of staff skills was the top AI challenge.

But the talent does not exist in market either and CIOs will not be able to “hire their way around the talent challenge”. Gartner recommends organisations consider “creative” ways of acquiring talent.

The consultant firm advices to offer competitive pay for AI specialists, re-skill from within and working with systems integrators, business partners and local universities on AI projects.

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