Study Examines Enterprise Use of Machine Learning

49% of enterprise leaders see machine learning tools as providing a competitive advantage to their business.

That’s according to findings from 451 Research’s recently published Voice of the Enterprise (VoTE): AI & Machine Learning – Adoption, Drivers and Stakeholders 2018 survey, which studied the ongoing impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Among the top-line results: Organizations see ML as a technology worth investing in for its own value, not because it can replace employees. ML is nearing a critical point, according to the survey. Fifty percent of respondents are already using ML or plan to begin using it within the next year. With interest remaining high, AI and ML are poised to become standard at nearly all companies, and they’ll be key technologies for companies trying to stay competitive.

Respondents were asked to name up to three of the most significant benefits of machine learning. Following in second was the improved customer experience ML can provide, cited by 44 percent. Thirty-five percent stated that ML allowed them to respond faster to opportunities and threats, while 31 percent believe it will help reduce errors and mistakes. Only 25 percent stated that one of the prime benefits of ML was its ability to lower costs, which supports the notion that companies aren’t using ML to replace employees. Twenty-four percent believe ML helps to increase sales, and another 24 percent believe it provides reduced risk exposure. Only seven percent of respondents cited other factors, showing the 451 Research’s survey keyed in on what most companies believe are the most important benefits of ML. 451 Research also noted that these results support the idea that ML is being viewed as a long-term investment, not as a short-term means of cutting costs.

According to Nick Patience, founder and research vice president for software at 451 Research: “Out of many possible benefits we presented to our survey respondents, almost half (49%) cited gaining competitive advantage as the most significant benefit they have received from the technology. Improving the customer experience came a close second, cited by 44% of respondents. Despite all the hype around mass job losses, lowering costs was cited by only a quarter of our survey respondents,” he said. “We think this demonstrates that AI and machine learning is an omni-purpose technology that can bring numerous benefits to organizations, beyond just lowering costs through increased automation.”

Barriers Remain

Despite the clear benefits of ML, barriers still remain. The most-cited barrier was a shortage of skilled resource, which was mentioned by 36 percent of respondents. In a distant second, at 16 percent, was accessing and preparing data, and a limited budget was cited by another 16 percent. Only three percent stated that existing algorithms weren’t right for their uses, and another three percent believe ML was hard to build and maintain. Surprisingly, only two percent stated a lack of support and involvement from senior leadership. Previous research had suggested that leadership issues were frequently viewed as a barrier to ML adoption, but the latest survey indicates that this belief has largely vanished. Five percent cited other barriers, while 10 percent stated that they had no barriers at all to using machine learning.

451 Research, in line with other researchers, expects barriers to adoption to fall in the coming years. Because ML technology has come online so quickly, it’s natural that there would be a lack of skilled employees initially. As the workforce adopts to changes, the skills shortage should be expected to fall rapidly, especially if salaries remain high. Furthermore, the view that ML provides a competitive advantage might evolve as well. Companies seem optimistic that ML will provide an edge on their competition. With ML set to be used by a small majority of companies over the next 12 months or so, it may soon become an effectively mandatory technology for those seeking to remain competitive.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, questions about technology’s effect on jobs arise. While this version of the survey didn’t ask respondents directly about the issue, there’s little indication that companies are using AI and ML to replace workers. As AI and ML become more capable, companies might look to eliminate roles or avoid hiring workers. However, 451 Research is confident of a beneficial effect on the job market. ML covers a wide range of activities, but it’s rare that it can completely fill specific roles in the office. Furthermore, expertise is needed to design, build, and maintain ML systems. Even if ML makes some jobs unnecessary, it will also create high-paying jobs at companies of all sizes.