The onslaught of press, research and perceived urgency has done little to prepare business and information technology leaders to deploy artificial intelligence-powered technologies.
That’s according to the first Cisco AI Readiness Index, issued Tuesday. The company used a double-blind survey of over 8,000 business and IT leaders worldwide.
The findings are alarming. Although 97% of the organizations say that the urgency around deploying AI tech has risen in the last six months, only 14% feel they’re prepared to deploy and utilize it.
Liz Centoni, Cisco’s executive vice president and general manager of applications and chief strategy officer, noted that organizations are under intense pressure to execute and capitalize on the potential of AI. “To realize the benefit of AI-powered products and services,” she said, “companies need solutions that secure and observe their AI models and toolchains to ensure performance, secure sensitive data and systems, and deliver trustworthy and responsible AI outcomes.”
This is consistent with my conversations with business and IT leaders. Since the launch of OpenAI LP’s ChatGPT, AI has hit the business world like Thor’s hammer and created intense pressure to embrace and leverage AI. One chief information officer of a major retailer told me that his leadership believes that if they are late to adopt AI, they will fall behind quickly and struggle to catch up, and that has created an unprecedented sense of urgency around AI.
The risk, though, is that if AI is done wrong, it can create negative experiences. It was good to see Cisco try and quantify the gap between what companies want and how ready they are.
Here are some of the key findings:
- Businesses are feeling the heat: 61% say they have just a year to implement their AI strategy before facing negative impact.
- But they have a strategy: 95% of organizations say they have a well-defined AI strategy or are developing one.
- Networks are lagging: Only 17% of organizations have flexible networks that can handle the complexity of AI.
- Data is not ready: Data underlies AI operations, and 81% of those surveyed say they face siloed or fragmented data in their organization.
- Talent is lacking: Although boards and leadership embrace AI (82% of both groups show high or moderate interest), 22% of middle managers have either limited or no receptiveness to AI. In addition, 31% of organizations say their employees resist or unwilling to embrace AI. And although 90% of organizations say they have invested in training, 29% are worried about finding the right talent.
- Governance is off to a slow start: Cisco says that 76% of organizations don’t have broad AI policies — a must for wide acceptance and use of AI-based tools.
- Culture is a challenge: The C-suite is receptive to the changes AI will usher in. Cisco believes they must lead planning and communication to bring along lower and middle management, who are skeptical. Although there is skepticism, 79% say their organization is embracing AI with a moderate to high level of urgency.
Initially, I thought the headline number of 14% feeling prepared was low. But, in reality, it could be much lower. AI has been brewing for years, but it has always felt a bit nebulous, or like something that was lurking in an amorphous future.
The rise of ChatGPT and generative AI has changed that equation. It’s no longer some science fiction story. It’s a reality on the immediate horizon.
Cisco’s AI Readiness Index is a great wakeup call. AI is a potent tool. But, as with any kind of technology shift, change can be tricky. Like the rise of e-commerce and the web, AI must be embraced organization-wide. Boards and leadership teams must make it an imperative for middle and lower managers.
Leaders and managers must support change management programs that can bring frontline employees along. The faster they embrace AI, the quicker the organization benefits.
It will be interesting to track this data over time. AI is inevitable. I would bet that the acceptance will be way up next year, by hook or by crook.