AI investment increased during the pandemic, and many business plan to do more, Gartner found

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A quarter of IT professionals increased AI investment levels due to COVID-19, 42% kept it at the same level, but 75% plan to continue or begin new AI projects in the next 6-9 months.

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As far as enterprise artificial intelligence projects are concerned, the COVID-19 pandemic was just a minor bump in the road, Gartner found: 24% of business and IT professionals surveyed said they increased AI investment during the pandemic, and 42% kept investment at the same level.

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Driving current AI investment has been customer experience and retention, revenue growth, and cost optimization, Gartner found. Those areas of focus are likely to continue as new projects are initiated in the post-pandemic business world, which Gartner said will be rich with AI investment.

Seventy-five percent of respondents said that they plan to continue current AI initiatives or invest in new ones over the next six to nine months, and 79% said their organizations were currently exploring or piloting AI projects. Only 21% said that their AI projects were in production, leaving a lot of room for explosive AI growth as the business world recovers from COVID-19.

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“Enterprise investment in AI has continued unabated despite the crisis,” said Gartner’s distinguished research vice president, Frances Karamouzis.

Gartner also found that AI talent, often cited as a major reason for organizations not launching AI or machine learning projects, may not be as much of a concern as people think.

“The biggest misconception in the journey to successfully scaling AI is the search for ‘unicorns,’ or the perfect combination of AI, business and IT skills all present in a single resource. Since this is impossible to fulfill, focus instead on bringing together a balanced combination of such skills to ensure results,” said Erick Brethenoux, research vice president at Gartner. 

Previous Gartner studies found that only 7% of IT leaders actually cited lack of AI skills as a reason for not implementing AI projects, with security and privacy actually being cited as the biggest roadblocks. 

Organizations with lower levels of AI maturity are still finding enough talent, with 56% saying they have the people they need, or are confident they can find/train them. Interestingly enough, organizations that report higher levels of AI maturity find it easier to get the people they need, with 89% saying they have no issues finding the right skill sets.

The growth of AI during the pandemic reported by Gartner is in line with similar studies, like one performed by IPsoft in August. IPsoft found that 88% of businesses it surveyed with more than 500 employees added or scaled their AI projects during the pandemic. 

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IPsoft also warned that, while businesses expanding AI implementations during the pandemic do plan to bring back employees displaced by AI due to stay-at-home orders, many of those same businesses do see their positions being eventually phased out in favor of AI and positions that work on those AIs. 

As Brethenoux said, AI talent is multiple things, and business professionals, whether they consider themselves at risk for AI-driven obsolescence or not, should consider training in some way that makes them valuable for a future of automated work. 

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