State of AI in Europe: How EQ is core to the business

18 Oct 2018

From left: Kieran McCorry, Microsoft Ireland; Cathriona Hallahan, Microsoft Ireland; and Simon MacAllister, EY Ireland. Image: Naoise Culhane

Emotional intelligence is a common trait of companies using AI effectively, report finds.

The majority of European firms (65pc) expect artificial intelligence (AI) to have a high impact on their core business, according to research jointly conducted by Microsoft and EY.

According to Artificial Intelligence in Europe, a study of AI strategies and the state of AI within 277 companies in several business categories across Europe, including 20 in Ireland, companies that do implement AI successfully have a common trait of greater emotional intelligence (EQ).

‘Businesses in Ireland now need to get their hands dirty with AI’

Despite the overall majority of European firms expecting the technology to impact core business, Irish organisations are falling behind European neighbours in AI implementation and investment.

On the flip side, AI in Ireland is ramping up, with 75pc saying they are in planning or piloting phase.

The AI revolution in business

Approximately 89pc of all respondents (85pc in Ireland) expect AI to generate business benefits by optimising their companies’ operations in the future. This is followed by 74pc across Europe who expect the technology to be key to engaging customers.

56pc of all the companies expect it to have a high impact or a very high impact on business areas that are “entirely unknown to the company today”. Similarly, 65pc of all respondents expect AI to have a high or a very high impact on the core business.

Despite the apparent sizeable impact that companies expect from the technology, only a very small proportion of companies, constituting 4pc of the total sample, say that AI is actively contributing to “many processes in the company and is enabling quite advanced tasks”.

Cathriona Hallahan, managing director of Microsoft Ireland, said: “Advancements in AI are creating new opportunities for businesses in Ireland to accelerate innovation and make it more accessible to everyone.

“Despite the opportunities which AI can unlock, today’s research shows that organisations in Ireland must close the gap with their European peers in adopting AI to digitally transform and enhance their competitiveness.

“While AI presents huge opportunities, we have a responsibility to build a partnership of people and technology if organisations are to successfully deploy and use AI to do and achieve more into the future. The onus is on us – business, government, academia and civil society – to come together to create an open and collaborative culture that supports people with intelligent technology.”

EQ: The missing link in getting the best out of people

The report highlighted a key and common trait of companies (80pc) that use AI successfully: higher EQ, or the ability to understand emotions that impact what motivates people, and to create an open and collaborative environment that empowers people to do their best work.

This correlates with recent research on digital culture from Microsoft Ireland, which identified the impact of culture on successful technology adoption. However, in Ireland, today’s research revealed that Irish companies rate EQ as a lower imperative than the European aggregate.

When it comes to deploying AI in Ireland, 85pc of companies believe it to be one of the most important tech items on their agenda. Boardroom inertia is crippling its uptake, leading to a mostly uncoordinated approach.

In terms of data management, only a small number of Irish organisations see themselves as competent data managers, below the European average. More than half of Irish organisations fear information overload when it comes to AI implementation and the technical demands of dealing with large databases and the ability to derive actionable insights.

“The report findings show that Irish organisations are clearly testing the waters with AI but are less mature than other European markets when it comes to actively piloting AI initiatives,” said EY Ireland partner Simon MacAllister.

“On the other hand, it is promising to see that AI appears to be higher on the C-suite agenda in Ireland, showing that there is clearly an appetite among senior decision-makers to drive the agenda forward. Businesses in Ireland now need to get their hands dirty with AI, either internally or in partnership with strategic vendors, to drive AI adoption and understand its full potential to harness the power of humans, allowing them to focus on the delivery of high-value work.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years