Reflecting on the output from Microsoft Future Decoded 2019 in London on 1st October has taken some time, as the talks were truly inspiring and thought provoking, on the future direction of technology and the societal impact that this will cause. With much talk about the meaningful aggregation and dissemination of data using Azure Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, the message focused on the need to put people at the heart of the change process for AI.
Cindy Rose, CEO Microsoft
CEO of Microsoft, Sataya Nadella’s views were shared by Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK’s CEO, talking about the need for global tech providers to handle users’ data more responsibly to maintain trust going forwards. In Rose’s speech she reflected on the need for the giants to agree a’ global ethical and empathetic framework and principles around AI design’ following the ‘Techlash’ debacle of 2018 (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google etc.).
In a later panel session, Abhjit Akerkar (Head of AI Business Integration) emphasised the importance of being hot on business trust and data privacy. Knowing which stakeholders were accountable would mollify users and reassure regulators that (business) models were compliant. Akekar also added his voice to the need to get employees involved and onboard with AI. He said helping the workforce understand the possibilities and opportunities around AI and chatbots was key, as was aligning company culture, structure and ways of working to drive successful adoption of AI (and inform decision makers better about why algorithms made the decisions they did).
Microsoft shared some statistics from an AI study of 1,000 organisation leaders and 4,000 employees. Companies were seen to be going from experimentation with AI (48%) to exploiting AI to solve big business challenges and create some vital commercial changes that would distinguish them resolutely from those who failed to adopt AI as part of their business model. It was the 8% who were scaling successfully who were seeing the biggest impact change). The UK survey, “Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI” found that 56% of UK companies were using AI today and 11.5% of them would outperform their competitors because of this. This was being achieved through better data science and insights, speed of platform, efficiency outputs, time savings and creating a richer customer experience.
An example quoted was NHS East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) who put nursing staff at the centre of an Azure AI development project with software developer Thoughtonomy, to create a robotic process automation workflow. This proved hugely successful a) because the nurses were central to the process from the start so were culturally onboard through collaboration and keen adopters to use the automation workflows and b) the hospital saved 4,500 hours in admin tasks in 12 months that enabled nurses to be re-directed to patient care.
A PwC repot estimates that AI will contribute up to $15 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2030. For the UK things look promising:
• 36% UK business leaders believe that AI is a skill that will help secure the future of the UK.
• The UK is in the top three countries worldwide for developing AI technology.
• The UK is also in third position for raising AI investment, and second for the number of AI companies based in the UK.
This creates a strong picture of optimism for business and the tech industry as whole. However, the journey to AI remains challenging. Only 26% of businesses surveyed said they were ready for transformation. So many organisations are clearly still struggling to get to full cloud enablement before being in a position to accelerate their desired tech strategy on innovation and true transformation of business opportunities and competitive advantage. Interestingly, there seems to be a huge communication void around this technology between Board and workforce. In those organisations surveyed who were intending to adopt AI, 96% of their employees had not had any discussion with their bosses about the introduction of AI, and conversely 83% of bosses had not been asked by their employees about introducing AI. So clearly company vision is not being shared to enable a meaningful conversation to begin.
The power of communication in developing AI
Microsoft emphasised a gear shift in business development execution, asking for leaders to discuss AI more widely and ensure that AI plans were accessible to all, so that AI was democratised and offered inclusivity, as the best outcomes came from ethical integration.
Microsoft’s Kate Rosenshine (Head of Azure Solutions Architecture) talked of the need to foster true co-creation involving many voices, not just the technical, but those with social and business skills to create the business outcome and ‘common language’ required to enable the scaling out of AI. AI, Rosenshine said required “the application of business, psychology and technology through a diverse set of skills and mindsets”. Given the way most organisations function in their traditional management style, sharing such a project plan methodology would likely be a considerable challenge, but then the rewards would be greatest, and re-invent that business for the twenty-first century.
NHS East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust’s CTO, Darren Atkins in the keynote panel discussion, noted that there appears to be a common fear around the introduction of AI technology. His recommendation for other organisations looking at transformation projects was succinct: firstly understand what you want to do with technology, then create a roadmap for the next 12-18 months, then before investing in a solution, ensure you are working with a partner who can support your strategy.
For many organisations, technology solutions often form complex journeys of several parts, involving multiple players. But trust, openness and inclusivity, in parallel with a strong security and compliance ethic, will offer the best language for good AI design and adoption. So find your right partner to walk alongside your organisation and take you into this new world offered by AI.
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