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Enterprise data cloud provider Cloudera today released a new study, “Limitless: The Positive Power of AI,” which explores how organizations use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and data analytics to improve business outcomes in a post-pandemic world. The study also examines the rise of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and how organizations choose to use these technologies for the greater good.

Cloudera, in partnership with Sapio Research, surveyed 2,213 business decision-makers who work at worldwide organizations with more than 1,000 employees. Over 10,000 knowledge workers — individuals who access technology as part of their jobs — also participated in the August 2021 study.

AI/ML is now accepted in the workplace

Prior to COVID-19, AI and ML were met with skepticism in the enterprise, as many employees wondered whether smart machines would take over their jobs. However, both employees and organizations have become more comfortable with these emerging technologies, thanks to the constant innovation over the past two years. The study found a significant shift in attitudes towards AI, ML and data analytics: Over three-quarters (77%) of knowledge workers said that all three could benefit their company in the next 36 months. 

This is consistent with ZK Research’s survey,  which finds many employees who work with data are overwhelmed by far too much information to analyze manually. Businesses compete to find key data-driven insights in an era when the volume of information to make decisions has exploded, making AI/ML not just a nice-to-have but a must-have for the enterprise. 

Data analytics boosts productivity, enables greater social responsibility 

Digital transformation continues to be a top priority for a third of business decision-makers, while boosting productivity is a priority for 28%. Interestingly, 26% of organizations are investing in ESG, which has become more of a priority than developing new products and services (24%) or accelerating financial growth (21%). The data shows social responsibility and using technology for good is now a fundamental part of business strategy. 

In comparison, 31% of knowledge workers believe their company’s top objectives are to increase productivity, while ESG is further down on the list. Nevertheless, both decision-makers and knowledge workers view technology as a means to achieve these objectives. More than half of decision-makers (58%) and 44% of knowledge workers believe AI will help them reach their business objectives in the next 36 months. 

According to 52% of decision-makers, their organization is already taking action and using data to support the communities they serve. However, approximately one in five knowledge workers thinks their company isn’t doing enough ESG or CSR work, which is why 41% say this could be the reason they leave the organization if it doesn’t change. 

AI creates more sustainable business practices 

Most (73%) business decision-makers agree that organizations can do more with data to improve the lives of their employees and communities. A vast majority of decision-makers (95%) and knowledge workers (87%) believe AI can be used to create more sustainable business practices. In reality, business decision-makers say that AI (61%), ML (49%), and data analytics (57%) are already being used to make sustainable business decisions at their organization.

While it’s clear that knowledge workers and decision-makers want to see their organization do more with AI/ML/data analytics, implementing such programs can be both complex and challenging. The top challenges of implementing AI named by decision-makers are budgetary constraints (45%), negative attitude toward the changes from existing staff members (40%) and the ability to scale solutions (40%). Knowledge workers also believe budgetary constraints (42%) and negativity from staff members (41%) are the leading challenges, but 42% also cite management’s lack of understanding in the tasks they have to perform.

Despite the challenges, the majority of decision-makers feel it is valuable to implement digital transformation programs that include new technologies. A whopping 91% of respondents feel they are already achieving success through existing AI programs, as well as programs involving data analytics (89%) and ML (87%). The top three benefits of AI cited by decision-makers are cost savings (45%), accuracy (44%) and the ability to scale deployment of other emerging technologies (40%). 

AI does not take jobs – it creates new ones 

The study’s findings dismiss a longstanding belief that AI will take away jobs from people. Rather, the fear of losing jobs to AI has been replaced with a new focus on reskilling people. Employees are starting to see the value of AI/ML/data analytics, while employers are investing in training, upskilling and reskilling to keep up with the pace of technology change. During the next 36 months, a third of organizations plan to support training for their employees in data analytics, while a fifth plan to support ML and AI training. The research confirms a growing need for AI, ML and data analytics in the enterprise. Organizations can harness the potential of these technologies, – not only to save money and improve employee productivity but also to do good for the communities they serve through sustainable business practices.

Chris Preimesberger is a former editor of eWEEK and a regular VentureBeat contributor who has been reporting on and analyzing IT trends and products for more than two decades.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions. Kerravala is considered one of the top 10 IT analysts in the world by Apollo Research, which evaluated 3,960 technology analysts and their individual press coverage metrics.

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