Rising AI adoption is also enabling sustainability, new IBM research finds

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While AI isn’t everywhere yet, adoption is growing at a rapid pace, according to new research released today at IBM’s annual Think conference.

The 2022 Global AI Adoption Index analyzed responses from over 7500 IT leaders around the world. Key highlights of the report include that 35% of organizations are using AI today and an additional 42% are “exploring AI.” AI use is helping to improve sustainability efforts as well as narrow important skills gaps, according to the report.

“One finding that stood out to me is that more than half of organizations polled say they’ve accelerated their AI rollout over the last two years,” Seth Dobrin, chief AI officer at IBM, told VentureBeat. “While AI adoption has been gradual for several years, I believe we’re at a tipping point and it’s poised to become a lot less gradual than it has been in the past.”

Why AI adoption is accelerating

According to Dobrin, a major explanation for the gradual AI adoption up to this point is the need to implement a strategy that can successfully operationalize and apply AI to business goals. Doing that in a methodical, long-term oriented way takes time. 

For example, today only 28% of organizations already have a holistic AI strategy in place. At the same time, 37% of responding organizations are developing their AI strategies right now. 

“Both the survey data and our first-hand experience with clients point to the fact that organizations are laying the groundwork for a more thoughtful and impactful approach to AI,” he said. “That is what’s going to drive more business and consumer value.”

Then of course, there is also the pandemic. Dobrin said that automation tools really took off during COVID-19, particularly those that helped address skills gaps and labor shortages, and that could be stood up quickly to help meet specific needs. 

The pandemic also strengthened the focus on addressing skills and labor gaps: “While upskilling and reskilling the workforce is key in the medium and long term, in the shorter term, AI can be a powerful solution,” he said, “particularly when we think about critical areas like IT operations and security, fields that require complex skills,” 

According to the report, almost one in four companies are adopting AI because of labor or skills shortages, and 30% of global IT professionals say employees at their organization are already saving time with new AI and automation software and tools. 

Barriers to AI adoption

While there are benefits to AI adoption, there are also challenges.

The IBM report identified five key areas as being barriers to AI adoption, including limited AI skills, expertise or knowledge; high costs; lack of tools or platforms to develop models; integration and scaling difficulties; and overly complex data.

“The key step to overcoming these barriers to AI adoption is setting an AI strategy,” Dobrin said. 

However, building an effective AI adoption strategy isn’t just about technology, he added.

“We believe organizations must place humans at the center to discover and select AI use cases built for the humans that use them,” he said. “In this way, the technology deployed returns tangible value to companies by creating value for people.” 

The future of AI

As AI adoption and use continues to grow, an emerging trend is how organizations are using AI to advance sustainability goals. 

The IBM report found that as companies get serious about climate, including making pledges to achieve net zero emissions, data and AI have a big role to play. Already, two-thirds (66%) of companies are either currently executing or planning to apply AI to address their sustainability goals. According to the survey, companies are looking to AI to help them make their operations more efficient (37%), provide verifiable data on environmental performance (33%) and automate their data collection and reporting (29%). 

“We expect this trend to take off in the next year as organizations realize the volume of sustainability data they’re sitting on and invest in new AI-powered software to turn that data into actionable insights that will help them make more sustainable decisions each day,” he said.

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