Barriers to AI adoption remain, keeping 2 in 5 big firms at bay

About 42% of enterprise-scale organisations, those with over 1,000 employees, have artificial intelligence actively in use in their businesses, thanks to widespread deployment by early adopters, according to an IBM survey.

The study was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of IBM in November 2023 among 8,584 IT professionals across Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. 

Results show that early adopters are leading the way in AI use, with 59% of responding enterprises that are already working with AI intending to accelerate and increase investment in the technology. 

However, challenges for AI adoption in enterprises remain, including hiring employees with the right skillsets, data complexity, and ethical concerns continue to inhibit businesses from adopting AI technologies into their operations. 

“We’re seeing that the early adopters who overcame barriers to deploy AI are making further investments, proving to me that they are already experiencing the benefits from AI,” said Rob Thomas, SVP of IBM Software. 

Thomas said more accessible AI tools, the drive for automation of key processes, and increasing amounts of AI embedded into off-the-shelf business applications are top factors driving the expansion of AI at the enterprise level.

“We see organisations leveraging AI for use cases where I believe the technology can most quickly have a profound impact like IT automation, digital labor, and customer care,” he said.

“For the 40% of companies surveyed stuck in the sandbox, I am confident 2024 will be the year of tackling and overcoming barriers to entry like the skills gap and data complexity,” added Thomas. 

Findings also show that organisations in India (59%), the UAE (58%), Singapore (53%), and China (50%) are leading the way in active use of AI, compared with lagging markets like Spain (28%), Australia (29%), and France (26%).

Companies within the financial services industry are most likely to be using AI, with about half of IT professionals within that industry reporting their company has actively deployed AI. 

Among IT professionals within the telecommunications industry, 37% state that their company is also deploying AI. 

Also, advances in AI tools that make them more accessible (45%), the need to reduce costs and automate key processes (42%), and the increasing amount of AI embedded into standard off the shelf business applications (37%) are the top factors driving AI adoption.

For IT professionals, the two most important changes to AI in recent years are solutions that are easier to deploy (43%) and the increased prevalence of data, AI, and automation skills (42%). 

On the other hand, the top barriers hindering successful AI adoption at enterprises both exploring or deploying AI are limited AI skills and expertise (33%), too much data complexity (25%), ethical concerns (23%), AI projects that are too difficult to integrate and scale (22%), high price (21%), and lack of tools for AI model development (21%). 

Data privacy (57%) and trust and transparency (43%) concerns are the biggest inhibitors of generative AI according to IT professionals at surveyed organizations not exploring or implementing generative AI.

Also, 35% also say that lack of skills for implementation are a big inhibitor. 

One in every five organisations report they do not have employees with the right skills in place to use new AI or automation tools and 16% cannot find new hires with the skills to address that gap.

Among companies citing AI’s use to address labor or skills shortages, they are tapping AI to do things like reduce manual or repetitive tasks with automation tools (55%) or automate customer self-service answers and actions (47%).

Only 34% are currently training or reskilling employees to work together with new automation and AI tools.