It's time for a new C-Suite position: Chief AI Officer

A survey of 260 large organizations suggests enterprise adoption of AI is growing at a remarkable pace. That's a huge opportunity for savvy IT employees

Artificial Intelligence

AI is spreading to the enterprise at a phenomenal rate.

According to a global survey of 260 large organizations conducted by market research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of Teradata, a data and analytics company, 80 percent of enterprises are investing in AI and one in three "believe their company will need to invest more over the next 36 months to keep pace with competitors."

Let's get this out of the way: What is AI?

Like "Big Data," it's a buzz phrase and technology category that's at once alluring and elusive. In general, enterprise AI includes things like machine and deep learning, voice recognition and response, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), automated communications and reporting, predictive analytics, and recommendation engines.

If you're a purist, you'll recognize that a more accurate description for most of these technologies would be software automation. But that's less fun to throw around at parties.

Big Data is distinct from AI, but the Big Data revolution that started a few years back has enabled many of the technologies we're calling AI.

If you're positioned to drive adoption and deployment of any of these technologies, which many IT professionals are, you're sitting on a huge opportunity, and potentially a leap into the C-suite.

"There is an important trend emerging evident in this report--enterprises today see AI as a strategic priority that will help them outpace the competition in their respective industries," says Atif Kureishy, vice president of emerging practices at Think Big Analytics. "But to leverage the full potential of this technology and gain maximum ROI, these businesses will need to revamp their core strategies so AI has an embedded role from the data center to the boardroom."

The report reaffirms the findings of a similar study from Narrative Science last year, which found that 59 percent of respondents saw the shortage of data science talent as the primary barrier to getting the full value out of emerging Big Data and AI technologies.

The Vanson Bourne/Teradata report contains some nuggets of particular interest to ZDNet readers. Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported that one of the areas where they expect to see the most impact from AI are IT, technology, and telecoms.

Other key findings suggest that while adoption is high already, most enterprise companies see lots of room to grow. But it's going to happen quickly:

42 percent [of respondents] say that there is lots of room for further implementation across the business;

30 percent still believe that their organization isn't investing enough and will need to invest more in AI technologies over the next 36 months to keep up with competitors in their industry.

There are also challenges ahead, which is a good thing for IT professionals who can familiarize themselves with software automation:

91 percent [of respondents] expect to see barriers to AI realization, with lack of IT infrastructure (40 percent) and lack of access to talent (34 percent) leading the challenges, followed by lack of budget for implementation (30 percent); complications around policies, regulations and rights (28 percent); and impact on customer expectations (23 percent).

Currently, most businesses are using existing technology leaders, such as CTOs, to drive AI deployment and strategy.

But that's likely to change if AI lives up to its promise of cost savings and greater workforce efficiencies. Many are predicting the rise of the Chief AI Officer position, a likelihood the survey bears out.

"As we continue to adopt AI solutions across our business, we're finding it is a proven differentiator for creating opportunities to streamline our operations and drive revenue," says Nadeem Gulzar, head of Global Analytics, Danske Bank.

"Finding the right talent is always a challenge in emerging tech fields and having service-based options, as well as off-the-shelf, will be important to fill the gap as we continue to invest in this technology."

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