It’s probably the least surprising conclusion of our times that some 86% of IT leaders around the world say they believe that generative AI will “play a prominent role at their organizations in the near future”. Of more interest - and certainly deserving of more debate - is an accompanying claim that most of the said IT leaders believe business stakeholders have a firm grasp on how generative AI can be “effectively leveraged” within their organizations.
What’s the context here? Some headline conclusions from Salesforce’s latest State of IT report, which polled 4,325 IT leaders around the globe to identify prevailing trends in their job function. Given that Salesforce has essentially re-defined itself as an AI firm in recent months, it’s fortunate that AI and automation are top of mind among those polled.
The percentages vary by country inevitably. In India, 95% of respondents cite the prominent role claim; in Australia and Thailand, it’s 92%; in Ireland, it’s 91%; and in Brazil, it’s 87%. In the US, it’s 86%, while in the UK, it’s 84%. But in Japan, the figure drops to 78%.
It’s worth noting though that a separate survey with a smaller poll base of 500 respondents back in March found that 57% of those surveyed saw generative AI as “a game changer”. Since then the generative AI hype cycle has ramped up and every enterprise tech firm has pivoted to become - or to claim to have become - an AI vendor.
Desired or deliverable?
So how much of IT leaders views in this latest poll are influenced by theoretical benefits and how much by practical deliverables? The State of IT report notes:
AI is a rapidly evolving technology, but it’s no longer novel. As such, the majority of IT leaders can now articulate how AI can play a role in their organizations, even if they haven’t implemented it yet.
That said, 78% of respondents insist that the role of AI in their organization is “well-defined”, and, as noted above, there’s a lot of confidence that everyone’s on top of what this means. Eighty-four percent of IT leaders believe they and their peers understand how AI can be applied, while 83% have similar faith in their staff. Meanwhile 81% reckon that their business colleagues have the necessary broad understanding. The report goes on to note:
While AI use cases are diverse, organizations are currently most likely to put it to work in customer service settings, such as chatbots.
Breaking down use cases, the study found that among organizations currently using AI, service operations optimization leads the way (24%), followed by new AI-based products on 20%, then customer service analytics and customer segmentation, both on 19% a piece.
In terms of organizational investment in automation as a whole, 87% of respondents reckon that this will increase over the next 18 months. IT workflows around operations management, service management and asset management are already well established, but there’s work to be done around HR workflows and areas such as customer onboarding. In fact, only 42% of IT leaders say that they are completely satisfied with the state of the organization’s process automation.
That said, automation is delivering clear ROI, according to poll respondents, with over half of IT leaders citing increased operational efficiency (56%) and improved employee productivity (52%) as the two leading benefits. It also helps to improve customer satisfaction, cited by 49%, but employees aren’t yet seeing such gains, with 44% citing increased job satisfaction and only 39% able to point to the much-repeated pitch for automation of it allowing staff to offload mundane tasks and focus on higher-value work.
This is a good solid report that’s worth a read - download here (some registration data required). Other topics of interest for IT leaders include sustainability; proliferation of data and consequent need for more integration; and the drive for more focus on operational efficiency. But inevitably it’s generative AI and the views around this that catch the eye. Given the way the entire tech industry has pivoted around this tech in the past few months, the level of interest expressed by respondents is only to be expected.
What’s unclear from this report is where the dividing line is between excitement/hype around the enterprise potential of generative AI - hype which has largely stemmed from consumer adoption - and deliverable realities. I’m particularly intrigued at the idea that IT leaders appear to believe that their business stakeholder counterparts have a firm grasp and understanding of generative AI practicalities. As many vendors have acknowledged, including Salesforce itself, we’re at the very early stages in rolling out generative AI and while that potential is clearly there, so too are a lot of barriers to adoption that still need to be addressed, not least around areas such as trust and ethics, both topics that Salesforce has identified as priorities.
This is the third annual State of IT report. It will be interesting to see what the data around generative AI is by the time issue four comes around next year. By that time, there should be more real-world exemplars of both the benefits and the pitfalls/challenges of the tech. How much that changes IT leadership views will evolve over time. In the meantime, this recent article based on commentary from Patrick Stokes, Salesforce EVP of Product, provides interesting insight into the vendor view of generative AI from a technology, rather than line of business, perspective.