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Executives in the U.S. and EU who are investing in artificial intelligence are also interested in internal initiatives to motivate their human employees, according to a survey Microsoft commissioned to look at the impact of AI on company culture and leadership, released today.

Motivating or inspiring employees ranked highest among 15 response options for how executives plan to invest alongside AI.

Exploration of new market opportunities, adapting to new circumstances, and connecting people and facilitating exchange were also seen as investment priorities for executives incorporating AI into their businesses.

About 800 business executives in the U.S. and 7 European nations — including the U.K., France, Germany, and Russia — participated in the survey.


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The report also found that the faster a company is growing, the more likely it is to consider implementation of AI systems.

Other insights from the survey:

  • Businesses experiencing growth of more than 10 percent are more likely to adopt AI for decision-making processes. More than 90 percent of companies experiencing high levels of growth plan to implement AI in the next three years, while about 64 percent of low-growth companies plan to do the same.
  • About 40 percent of high-growth companies are actively implementing AI, while 18 percent of companies experiencing less than 10 percent annual growth plan to.
  • Half of high-growth businesses plan to implement AI in the next year.

Executives in companies experiencing more than 10 percent growth tended to have a different perspective from those experiencing less than 10 percent growth.

Roughly 41 percent of companies experiencing growth above 10 percent expect AI to completely change controlling and problem solving in their business.

The survey was carried out by Susan Etlinger, an Altimeter Group analyst whose work focuses on AI, and Heike Bruch, director of the Institute for Leadership and Human Resources Management and professor at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Etlinger told VentureBeat the survey did not attempt to collect comments on the specific ways executives want to invest in motivating or inspiring employees, but she said successful implementations of AI are typically carried out by agile, diverse organizations that have broken down data silos between company departments.

“To me, it stands to reason that if you move to a more rules-based, hierarchical world, to a more probabilistic, scientific world, that getting your team right is kind of critically important,” she said. “I think part of what companies are dealing with is building team cultures, and team cultures end up being really important in this work because there has to be a level of trust, there has to be a level of trust that if you fail you won’t be escorted to the door. Teams have to be diverse, because otherwise you end up with super limited or wrong or bias[ed] or unfair outcomes.”

In an interview with VentureBeat, Microsoft Enterprise CTO Norm Judah said he routinely meets with business executives for his work and that three types of AI enter the conversation: the super complex kind used for things like demographic analysis; the simpler kind infused into software for better performance; and the kind used to augment people’s job performance, like robotic process automation.

Judah believes it’s the third kind that most businesses should focus on in order to build an AI mindset before tackling more ambitious projects.

“Unfortunately, people don’t think of that as AI, but it’s where a lot of the real value is — because there are business hypotheses that can be established that say ‘Can AI help me in this situation?'” Judah said.

Executives, he said, don’t have to understand the intricacies of what  it takes to train and deploy neural networks, but they do have to understand the possibilities.

“We’ve identified a huge opportunity to provide AI learning and readiness to business leaders. It’s an area we’re focusing on; we’ll announce some stuff soon,” Judah said. “We’re trying to educate business leaders — again, not necessarily about the underlying AI engine, but what AI can do and how it can actually impact them, their business, and their capabilities. Because it is going to start to become — at least this is what the survey shows — a core part of the cultural essence of many companies, understanding what it can do and how it can be integrated.”

The results of the survey commissioned by Microsoft echo the results of Gartner’s 2019 CIO Survey released in January that looked at executives in nearly 90 countries and found enterprise adoption of AI has grown 270 percent in the past four years.

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