Companies today are focused on keeping employees safe while trying to still meet the essential needs of their customers. But we know from our conversations with our customers and partners throughout the United States that business leaders are also beginning to think about how best to adapt and drive recovery as we emerge from this crisis.
The business world is changing at an extraordinary pace. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently observed during our earnings announcement, “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly at the heart of digital transformation. It helps us discover, learn, ideate, and make decisions. It makes business operations more efficient, enhances product & service development, enables new customer experiences and more. And in some industries, like healthcare, it is helping improve and even save lives.
But how do companies ensure their investments in AI are unlocking business value? To help answer that question, we conducted research in late March looking at what AI-leading companies are doing differently to achieve the greatest business advantage.
The key takeaway: the companies seeing the greatest value from AI are the ones that do not just invest in technology, but also the skills of their people.
AI, skills, and business value
Typically, the more AI a company uses, the more value they see from it. Among senior leaders from mature AI businesses in the US, 82% say they are seeing business value because of AI, compared with 56% of leaders at companies that are at earlier stages of AI usage.
But the research reveals that the value does not simply come from adding more AI technology. Instead, mature AI businesses are also focused on developing the skills of their people. Almost all senior execs (91%) at AI-leading organizations indicate they are actively building the skills of their workforce or have developed plans to do so. Their employees back this up. Approximately two-fifths (42%) confirm they have already taken part in reskilling initiatives, and 73% indicate that they are confident their employer is preparing for a world in which AI is everywhere.
We see from the survey that companies at the earlier stages of using AI do not have this same focus on skills – so the importance of combining AI and skills is clearly a key learning.
It is important to note that these AI-leading firms are not only focused on hard technology skills. Along with data analytics and programming, we see that these companies are also developing employees’ soft skills in areas such as communications, leadership and negotiations.
I see two key reasons why these companies are cultivating a broad set of skills among their people.
First, AI can free people up from more repetitive tasks. This gives them more time and energy to focus on higher-value activities – whether it is spending time with customers, brainstorming a new product or service, or focusing on professional development.
Second, AI is great for crunching large data sets and providing insights based on that data. But that computation requires human creativity, teamwork and customer-centricity to turn those insights into actions that bring value back to the organization.
Augmenting people with AI
Although AI is a rapidly developing technology, this data point really caught my attention: at AI-leading firms, 85% of senior executives, and 40% of employees, say they are AI-augmented. This means AI is an active agent in helping them be more effective at their jobs.
Most AI-mature businesses (91%) are enjoying increased operational efficiencies, with AI picking up simple and repetitive tasks. But what is especially interesting to see is that the more a company uses AI, the more likely its people are using the technology to drive new business opportunities. Almost half (46%) of AI-leading firms are using AI to help their people develop new products and services. Approximately a third (32%) are using AI to improve the customer experience. These percentages drop considerably among companies that are earlier on the AI journey.
A learning culture in the age of AI
The research suggests that as a company deploys more AI and reskilling initiatives, a learning culture emerges.
As AI becomes more common among businesses, a clear majority of all employees (76%) are highly motivated to acquire or deepen AI-relevant skills. Further, when asked how they would like to spend more time as AI becomes common within their organization, a top response from employees was in learning and development.
This culture change is critical. To drive the greatest value from AI, it is important people are open to not only doing things better, but doing things differently. This cannot happen unless they embrace change and continuous professional development.
AI + skills + culture change = a virtuous circle
A virtuous circle emerges at companies more mature in their adoption of AI. These AI-leading firms see that having the right skills enables them to unlock more value from AI, which encourages them to extend their use of AI and, in turn, continue up-levelling skills in their organization. The research shows that this cycle is contributing to more innovative company cultures, where people are increasingly focused on bringing value to customers and continuous professional development.
This pattern certainly rings true to me. Through our own journey of digital transformation at Microsoft, we see the compounding value of investing in both AI technology and the skilling necessary to help our people derive value from it.
KRC Research conducted a random online sample of approximately 12,000 people working within enterprise companies (more than 250 employees), between 12-30 March. Within each market the sample was comprised of at least 500 workers and 100 leaders (director level and above). Markets represented include: Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (combined), Hungary, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, India, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.
Want to learn more?
There is more to explore for your organization with these free resources from Microsoft:
- Microsoft AI Virtual Summit – Register on-demand.
- AI Business School – Insights and practical guidance from top executives on how to strategically apply AI in your organization
- Microsoft Cloud Skills Challenge: Build your cloud skills with learning made easy and at your own pace
Microsoft learn for AI engineers: Define and implement cutting-edge AI solutions