With all of the hype around artificial intelligence (AI), companies are diving into the technology in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage. But, Cisco wondered, are they actually prepared to succeed with it?
Thus was born the Cisco AI Readiness Index, a global survey of more than 1,000 organizations, including 300 in Canada, which attempts, said Rob Barton, Cisco Canada’s chief technology officer, “to understand where they’re sitting, and then to score them on the six different categories: strategy, infrastructure, data, governance, talent, and culture.”
“AI is this amazingly incredible tool that the world has suddenly got access to,” he said. “It’s obviously been out for a while, but in the last year of generative AI becoming such a dominant thing in people’s consciousness, it’s how ready are we to start using this tool and to unleash its potential.”
The results for Canada are not encouraging: although 96 per cent of Canadian organizations say their urgency to deploy AI or AI-powered technologies has increased in the past six months (vs 97 per cent globally), only nine per cent are fully prepared to deploy and leverage the technology. Globally, that figure is 14 per cent, and in the U.S., 18 percent think they’re ready.
However, when you combine those who are fully prepared (“Pacesetters”) and those who are partially prepared (“Chasers”), Canada’s businesses match the global tally at 48 percent, while the U.S. edges ahead with 54 per cent of organizations saying they are moderately or fully prepared for AI.
Interestingly, both globally, and in the U.S. and Canada, four per cent of respondents indicated they are totally unprepared.
In speaking with Canadian customers, Barton said he has found that executives are excited about the technology, but are proceeding with caution, concerned about the privacy and security implications as well as about data sovereignty.
“So they’re like, ‘OK, we love it. We love the idea of it. But you know, wait until we’ve got both our strategy in place and our governance in place, so that we’ve gotten the data sovereignty things figured out, and we know how it’s going to be used, who’s going to be using it’,” he said. “They’re definitely interested, but I hear it every day: ‘let’s just take this slowly.’ But then how slowly do you want to move? There’s this window of opportunity here to be competitive, where you could lose your edge.”
The way companies typically approach AI, he added, is, they get some ideas about what they want to do, and then their data scientists tell them what they actually can do, based on available data and models, and they try to find an intersection point.
But that implies that the company has data scientists at its disposal, and its data is good, properly labelled, and not sitting in what Barton calls “data puddles” such as Excel spreadsheets. And, he noted, companies will be ahead of the game if they are already using data analytics, because they already have the right talent in place.
An examination of the individual AI Readiness Index categories reveals that Canada lags behind the U.S. and the world in every single one. And, disturbingly, 21 per cent of middle management and 33 per cent of employees report either a limited willingness to embrace AI, or outright resistance. In the U.S., those figures are 19 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively.
The good news, Cisco said, is that in strategy, “we are well on our way,” with 68 per cent of organizations either Pacesetters or Chasers (globally the figure is 73 per cent). Only six per cent are considered Laggards (unprepared). And 95 per cent already have an AI strategy in place or are working on one.
However, networks are not equipped to meet AI workloads, with 55 per cent having limited or no scalability to meet AI challenges on their current infrastructure, and 28 per cent whose networks are not flexible enough to handle AI workloads. Overall, the Canadian infrastructure score, at 47 per cent Pacesetters and Chasers, equals the global score; both are behind the U.S., where 53 per cent were Pacesetters or Chasers.
Readiness is lowest in the Data category, where only 39 per cent were Pacesetters or Chasers in Canada, compared to 43 per cent globally and 46 per cent in the U.S.. The issue is the same everywhere: data is the backbone of AI, so if it’s insufficient or of poor quality, AI initiatives are impacted.
Although 87 per cent of Canadian respondent agree that they plan to invest in upskilling of existing employees, there’s still concern that there’s not enough talent available to upskill. There’s a certain irony here, given Canada’s position as a world leader in AI.
“To me, the number one most important of all categories is talent,” Barton said. “Because you cannot do anything else without the talent. You can’t build a strategy, you can’t build the infrastructure, you can’t do the data science without the right talent, and if it’s not available, then who’s going to lead these projects? So I think this is definitely a wakeup call for us.”
AI policy adoption is off to a slow start as well, according to the survey. While C-suite executives are the most receptive to embracing AI, 71 per cent of organizations do not have comprehensive AI policies in place, and 21 per cent have only basic, untested (or no) protocols in place to address data breaches or privacy violations.
“I think this is one that potentially concerns me a little bit, in that we tend to put so much red tape on things in Canada, that it almost slows us down from innovation,” Barton said. “Obviously, in the public sector, we see this all the time with data sovereignty, data residency type of regulations, but I think we tend to have so much governance, that we have so much caution about how we use these things. It almost creates an inhibitor kind of effect that prevents people from investing in the projects, from hiring the right talent, from the talent even staying in the country.”
It’s in our culture, he said, to put guardrails in place with legislation around AI governance. “That is how Canadians think. It is a good thing, because it puts guardrails in place. I think balance is always important. We just want to look at things that, yes, we have governance at all levels. But we should never let it inhibit innovation.”