AI: an opportunity amidst a crisis

As organisations repair, rethink and reconfigure their business models to navigate the uncertainties of the post COVID-19 world, they have started realising the potential of digital and cognitive technologies to increase resilience, spot growth opportunities and drive innovation. Our annual survey of CXOs and decision makers has revealed that as we emerge from the current crisis, optimism with regard to AI has gone up significantly from 72% to 92%, and the rate of AI adoption has increased from 62% to 70%. Further, 94% of the respondents claim they have either implemented or are planning to implement AI in their organisations.

However, to get the best out of AI, businesses need to start viewing it as a necessity rather than a luxury. In this study, we explore how enterprises can adopt and scale up AI initiatives to maximise their impact on business outcomes.

AI and COVID-19: An overview

Amidst the global pandemic, India has noted the highest increase in the use of AI as compared to major economies in the world.

Our survey suggests that around 70% of enterprises have implemented AI in some form in one or more functional areas compared to around 62% last year.Indian organisations are firm in their resolve to combat the challenges of the pandemic, with the manufacturing sector reconfiguring traditional practices to automate value chain processes and the Government engaging with technology firms to solve problems in the new normal (e.g. contact tracing, contactless thermal screening). Similarly, universities, start-ups and the healthcare sector have developed AI-powered diagnostic guidance systems to help patients and models to predict the spread of the virus.

The current crisis has boosted awareness of AI in many organisations. As per our survey, 94% of organisations now believe that AI will help create more opportunities than be a threat to their industry. Enterprises are now more aware than earlier that AI is no longer a ‘nice to have’ technology but a ‘must have’.

AI is going to be a key strategic differentiator as enterprises cited creating competitive advantage through digital transformation (91%), improving operational efficiency (~90%) and augmenting decision making capabilities (87%) as their top priorities for AI adoption. AI is helping businesses to achieve their business goals through critical digital solutions and to improve business processes through optimal resource allocation and utilisation.

Adoption of AI in an organisation follows a life cycle – identifying the areas where the technology can be implemented, developing and testing pilots, implementing AI in some business areas and then finally scaling up the implementation enterprise wide. While Indian businesses still lag behind their global counterparts when it comes to enterprise-wide implementation (5% in India vs 25% globally), India has a much higher proportion of firms (46%) with implementation in some business functions compared to the global average (28%).

Significantly, more Indian enterprises are considering the use of AI (24%) compared to the global average (15%), which indicates rapid acceleration in the adoption of AI in India post the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increased adoption of AI can be attributed to the following factors:

  1. Post COVID-19, AI-enabled use cases like contactless selling and delivery have gained traction due to changes in buying behavior.
  2. As organisations are reopening their manufacturing and office locations, AI-enabled tools are helping them enforce best practices from a health and safety perspective.
  3. The remote workforce is relying more on AI-enabled digital assistants to do their work without loss of productivity.
  4. As past knowledge and experience may fail to provide the right insights in these times of disruption, organisations are increasingly making decisions based on current data using AI-enabled predictive and prescriptive tools.
  5. To reduce cost of doing business, combat disruption and become future ready, AI-based digital twins and synthetic data are enabling organisations to build resilient ecosystems. Eg. Supply chain and operations.

Changing priorities and risk awareness

As organisations mature along the AI journey and move from implementing pilot AI projects to scaling them up at the enterprise level, the nature of the challenges they face has evolved from purely technical or data-related constraints to more business-related constraints such as RoI calculation and selection of the right use cases. 

Priorities Risk of AI

Sectoral view

Sectors which have faced the most disruption due to COVID-19 have embraced AI in a more definitive manner because for them it is more of a business necessity than a ‘good-to-have’ solution. Travel and hospitality (89%) has taken the lead in AI implementation, followed by TMT (86%), financial services (82%), and healthcare and pharma (73%). 

Sector-wise adoption trends Benefit-adoption matrix

Use case view

Customer-led transformation related use cases which have a direct impact on demand generation and customer satisfaction have emerged important during the current economic environment.

Use cases - PwC India

Use cases

Front office transformation has undergone the initial wave of customer relationship management (CRM) implementation and is now embracing AI-enabled solutions to tide over a post-pandemic crisis where both demand and supply have been volatile.

Enhance-Explore Framework - PwC India

Enhance-Explore Framework

Organisations need to take a strategic view and maintain a pipeline of use cases that helps them reconfigure and prepare for the new normal.

Industry Outlook

Much of the travel and hospitality sector is looking at AI-powered digital solutions to reconfigure business processes and promote contactless experiences, safety and long-term operational changes. The rapid generation of data has helped the sector to drive pilots but when it comes to scaling up the solutions, the sector has witnessed challenges around the complexity and cost of implementations.

Industry Outlook - Travel and hospitality - PwC India

AI has enabled the industry to make significant gains in the domains of manufacturing and operations. The usage of AI has improved productivity in operations (44%), predictive maintenance (38%) and better demand forecasting (28%).

Industry Outlook - Industrial products - PwC India

The TMT industry has been at the forefront of AI adoption, with around 10% of TMT organisations already implementing AI solutions on scale at the enterprise level. Over the next couple of years, the industry will invest in the development of data-driven recruitment (46% firms) and AI-based virtual assistants for learning and development capabilities (46% firms).

Industry Outlook - Telecommunications, Media and Technology - PwC India

The financial services sector has focused on the core processes of the value chain such as customer service (73%), fraud detection (58%) and due diligence (30%). The biggest challenge is the high quality of data (40%) required to develop accurate solutions, and the sector (approximately 70% firms) is keen to invest in improving data quality and developing external third-party data partnerships to accelerate the process.

Industry Outlook - Financial Services - PwC India

The healthcare sector has been leveraging AI to resolve core business problems, with R&D being the primary area of implementation (57%). AI has helped healthcare and pharma firms to drastically expedite clinical trials and drug discovery, and reduced the time consumed from years to, in some cases, days, consequently leading to huge savings in expenses. AI is also solving complex questions around genome sequencing and protein structures. The sector is looking to adopt AI in customer-oriented functions, e.g. implementing chatbot guidance systems (47%) and hyper-personalising patient care through customer insights (40%).

Industry Outlook - Healthcare and Pharma - PwC India

The industry is taking initiatives for wider adoption of AI, with 86% of the firms investing in identifying more pilots for AI implementation. The sector has a special focus on change management (66%) to equip the workforce to move from traditional and conventional technologies to cognitive technologies.

Industry Outlook - Retail and Consumer - PwC India

The way forward

Organisations adopting AI applications often face multiple challenges and fail to realise the optimum value from their AI investments. A planned organisation wide approach will go a long way in scaling these AI initiatives.

Read more about The way forward

About the survey

PwC conducted comprehensive interviews between August and September 2020, eliciting more than 200 responses from CXOs and decision makers across the Indian market. Around the same time (September–October 2020), PwC conducted a larger online global survey that attracted 670 responses from businesses across the world.

The survey covered respondents from industries such as financial services, healthcare and pharma, industrial products, retail and consumer, telecom, media and technology, and travel and hospitality; and business functions such as customer service, finance and tax, human resources, IT and cyber security, manufacturing and operations, research and development, risk, legal and compliance, sales and marketing, supply chain and logistics.

AI: an opportunity amidst a crisis

As organisations repair, rethink and reconfigure their businesses for a changed world, Artificial Intelligence is evolving as a key enabler in their journey to emerge stronger. Our report explores AI adoption trends in the post-Covid world, with a deep dive into India.

Duration: 00:01:29

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