Artificial Intelligence: Changing Business Amidst COVID-(AI Adoption before and during COVID-19)

Setting the context

AI adoption is happening at a breakneck speed all around the world and this article aims to find if COVID-19 has sped up or slowed down the adoption amongst various industries. In order for comparing the adoption during COVID-19, it is important to check the adoption undertaken to date. That will strive to give a base reference point for further study of the same. The chart below shows in percentage the adaptation of AI in different industries and under different functions.

Chart 1 – Adoption of AI in different industries under different functions (in %) (2019)

As seen from the chart above, Service Operations function dominates in the overall category while Product/Service development comes in at a close second. The particular function where AI is adopted also depends heavily upon the type of business as evident from the fact that the Automotive sector use most of its AI adoption in Manufacturing and Telecom uses it in Service Operations. Businesses remain lukewarm towards the adoption of AI citing reasons such as spending increased amounts of resources like money and time.

AI adoption entails a number of key factors and questions and some of them are enumerated below-

  • Whether it is relevant for the business in the long term
  • How much of a positive impact does AI adoption create?
  • Does the cost justify the benefits that can be reaped into the future?
  • What are the processes that are improved and how does that impact the current business?

Therefore, even if it is evident for businesses to adopt AI, they do not do so keeping in mind the short- and long-term prospects and other factors like Return on Investment (RoI). 

Diving deeper

AI is an overarching term that encompasses many technologies such as Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing so it makes sense to look at the adoption rates keeping in mind the industry and the technology involved. The graph below shows the breakdown of AI Adoption in 2019 and again the type of technology used in a particular industry depends heavily upon the characteristics of the industry itself. High Tech is leading the other industries in usage and adoption of Machine Learning while Robotic Process Automation is rightly mostly used in Automotive Industry. Businesses in developing economies are increasingly utilizing the benefits of AI with each passing year. Reports by McKinsey show that high performing companies have a couple of key strategies that are similar to each other-

  • AI strategy is heavily aligned towards the business goals
  • Investing in AI training and talent pool
  • Collaboration that cuts across functional teams
  • Data Practices that follow a best practices pattern
Fig 2.1- AI in depth
Chart 2.2- Distribution of AI adoption under various specialized technologies (2019)

AI Adoption amidst COVID-19

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of AI across industries with the Bain COVID-19 IT Buyer Survey stating that three out of four companies are planning to accelerate automation initiatives due to COVID-19. It is very likely that COVID has transformed permanently, the way businesses are conducted and now many are considering AI adoption to stay ahead of the curve. According to a RELX survey dated October 2020, AI usage has shot up massively to 81% which is a huge 33 percentage points increment over 2018 in the USA. The following image shows a three-year trend in the usage and adoption of AI across industries.

With COVID-19 dictating our lives and with the increased dependence on social distancing and work from home cultures, it is imperative that businesses embrace the AI advantage. AI ensures that there is minimal redundancy and the need for human labour for trivial, repetitive tasks is abolished. In addition, technologies such as the 5G will support and help AI adoption. Healthcare is one such area that is rapidly making use of AI amidst a massive paradigm shift. Some of the data points pertaining to AI adoption in COVID-19 are-

  • 68% increased the spending on AI during the pandemic
  • 77% of those surveyed agreed to the fact that AI technologies helped slow the spread of the virus
  • 63% businesses agreed that AI helped them achieve a strategic advantage amidst the pandemic

However, there are concerns about the ethical usage of AI as many fear that in the wrong hands, AI can have devasting consequences. Decades of dystopian science fiction movies have done nothing to alleviate those fears and instead helped reinforce them. Fortunately, most AI usage in businesses are harmless and only strive to improve processes, optimize them and help reduce costs over the long run. AI adoption is one of the key factors of success against uncertainties and it is only fair that businesses start realizing that, for their own survival.

Fig 3- Survey Results


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