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Only 11% of global execs see significant financial benefits from AI initiatives

By Shannon Williams, Thu 4 Nov 2021

Only 11% of global executives are seeing significant financial benefits from their AI initiatives, according to new research.

The MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group 2021 global study, The Cultural Benefits of Artificial Intelligence in the Enterprise, found AI-related cultural and financial benefits build off of each other, with AI helping companies reassess their effectiveness.

The study found more than 75% of managers who reported that their artificial intelligence implementations improved their team's decision-making and efficiency also saw improvements in collective learning (87%), team morale (79%), and collaboration (78%).

In its fifth consecutive year, this longitudinal examination of cross-industry AI adoption identifies a wide range of AI-related cultural benefits at both the team and organisational levels.

Key study findings include:

  • AI-related cultural and financial benefits build off of each other. Using AI helps companies reassess what being effective means in their organisations. This leads to new business objectives, which leads to new ways to measure performance, new behaviours, and improved outcomes.
  • Survey respondents who see significant financial benefits with their AI initiatives are 10 times more likely to change how they measure success as a result of using AI than those who saw no such benefits.
  • Sixty-four percent of companies that use AI extensively or in some parts of their processes change how they measure performance and adjust their key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • When AI enables workers to outperform existing KPIs, new success measures are necessary. Sixty-six percent of respondents who agree that their KPIs have changed because of AI also see improvements in team-level collaboration.

"Most companies still have a long way to go to generate substantial financial benefits with AI," says Sam Ransbotham, a professor in the information system department at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, an MIT SMR guest editor, and a report coauthor. 

"Those who do obtain significant financial benefits often have learned how to culturally benefit from AI and how to use AI to glean financial rewards. Our research suggests that these are connected, not separate, activities." 

Innovating with AI improves competitiveness.
Of companies using AI to explore new ways to create value (versus improve existing processes), 59% agree that using AI helps them defend against competitors and capture opportunities from adjacent industries.

These companies are also 2.7 times more likely to agree that AI is helping their company capture opportunities in adjacent industries.

"Successful organisations have moved beyond using AI just to improve their current business and processes," says François Candelon, senior partner and managing director at BCG and global director of the BCG Henderson Institute. 

"They are now harnessing the power of AI to uncover new business opportunities to create competitive advantage." 

The research found the mistrust of AI can undermine adoption. Both financial and nonfinancial benefits with AI depend on employees working with and trusting the technology.

According to the results, nearly half of companies believe that mistrust of AI stems from a lack of understanding (49%) or training (46%).

It also found that providing too little context behind decisions (34%) or too much information (17%) can erode trust, and no amount of user education can overcome a poor tool. Insufficient quality data (31%), failure to meet expectations (20%), or incorrect solutions (14%) contribute to mistrust of AI.

"Culture change is often necessary to adopt AI, and adopting AI can improve culture," says David Kiron, editorial director at MIT SMR and a report coauthor. 

"But AI adoption won't happen if your culture rejects AI tools. Cultural acceptance of AI begins with trust. Building that trust depends on teaching and training workers, explaining the reasons for AI recommendations, and providing AI tools that solve problems."

The research found that AI that is effective at the team level doesn't always yield financial success at the organisational level.

At the team level, 58% of global executives agree that their teams have improved in both efficiency and decision quality since implementing AI solutions.

But, at the organisational level, only 11%  have seen significant financial benefits from their AI initiatives.  It may be that few companies are implementing AI at a scale sufficient to generate substantial financial benefits.

Shervin Khodabandeh, a senior partner and managing director at BCG and the coleader of BCG GAMMA (BCG's AI practice) in North America, adds, "Given how effective AI has proved to be at the team and cultural levels, it is imperative that leaders within companies find ways to translate that more broadly to the organisational level.

"Furthermore, AI can become a managerial tool to align micro behaviour with broader goals, including societal purpose, equity, and inclusivity."

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