Artificial intelligence progress gets gummed up in silos and cultural issues

Survey finds things slow-going for AI and robotic process automation,

Silos have always been considered a bad thing for enterprise IT environments, and today's push for artificial intelligence and other cognitive technologies is no exception. A recent survey shows fewer than 50% of enterprises have deployed any of the "intelligent automation technologies" -- such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). IT leaders participating in the survey say data and applications within their companies are too siloed to make it work. 

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

That's the gist of a survey of 500 IT executives, conducted by IDG in partnership with Appian. The majority of executives, 86%, say they seek to achieve high levels of integration between human work, AI, and RPA over the coming year. The problem is they have a long way to go -- at this time, only 12% said their companies do this really well today.

Where are the problems? Two-thirds of executives, 66%, stated that they "have difficulty integrating existing IT investments and skills with demanding AI and RPA  technology." Notably, 43% cite changing the IT culture as an obstacle to AI and RPA. While the survey report's authors did not spell out what kind of changes were required, it can be assumed that IT culture is hampered by a need for a constant maintenance and firefighting, versus focusing more on innovation. There may be also issues with communication between the IT and business sides of the house -- as well as interacting more with data science types.  Some of these issues may eventually see some relief through agile and DevOps initiatives. 

Additional issues that hold back AI and RPA progress include concerns about security, cited by 41%, and application development issues seen by 34% of the group.  Again, this was not elaborated in the report, but application development roadblocks likely stem from lack of proper tools to build AI-driven applications, along with the need for skills development or refreshes.

In addition, linking automation efforts to improving customer experiences was problematic. Two-thirds of executives, 66%, say they Needed a Better Multi-Channel Buying Experience. However,  26% lack the systems to deliver integrated multi-channel customer experiences, and 22% need to build or buy software to implement multi-channel customer experiences. Another 21% say they even lack a strategy for delivering integrated multi-channel customer experiences. 

At this point, it appears AI and RPA are mainly the tools of the largest corporations with humongous IT staffs. While there are deployments of individual emerging automation technologies, a lack of strategy and clear alignment to business goals is resulting in siloed deployments and overwhelmed internal application development teams. Less than half of surveyed companies have deployed any form of intelligent automation.  Fully half of those companies boast IT staffs in excess of 20,000 employees.