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Three things CEOs should consider about AI

CEOs need to learn how to ride the artificial intelligence wave to grow their businesses

A report released by research firm Accenture said that with the successful adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), Singapore could double the size of its economy while also boosting productivity by 41 per cent by 2035.

However, Singapore is considered to be lagging behind on AI adoption (9.9 per cent) compared with its peers in the region.

Nevertheless, the country is still leading in terms of research and application of the technology - due to its Smart Nation vision, diverse society and strong state backing for technology research.

The Government has shown its seriousness about the country's AI prospects as significant developmental efforts have also been made.

For instance, last year, it was announced that the National Research Foundation plans to invest up to $150 million in a new programme called AI Singapore, aimed at boosting the country's artificial intelligence capabilities over the next five years.

The discovery of better business insights is the biggest reason behind the push for AI adoption.

This means AI is becoming more pervasive, with 35 per cent of organisations in Singapore having plans to adopt AI within two years.

AI is a precision tool that should be used judiciously to achieve specific goals. Implementing it takes foresight and a vision, along with a healthy understanding of the technology challenges involved.

Here are three things that every CEO should understand before they tackle AI at the strategic level.

AI MUST BE ALIGNED WITH GOALS

In a McKinsey survey of 3,000 executives, 41 per cent said that they are uncertain about the benefits of AI.

AI can help your business by automating relatively simple tasks that would take humans 30 seconds or less to complete. It can also look more deeply at data to find patterns that humans may miss.

These are two very different capabilities, and CEOs must learn how to map them to their businesses by understanding their goals for AI.

For example, a group of researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) Environmental Health Institute have developed an AI agent to forecast dengue incidence up to four months ahead, by learning the seasonal patterns of cases over the past decade.

By providing advanced warnings of impending outbreaks, the AI agent can assist NEA to optimise its response.

AI THRIVES ON DATA

The neural networks typical of AI systems learn to make better decisions using vast amounts of historical data.

They then produce models that organisations must constantly refine as new data comes into the organisation.

Where will this data come from, and are you ready to provide it?

Most organisations have existing IT infrastructure built up by multiple teams over many years. The result is a fragmented information landscape.

Data resides in different systems that don't talk easily to each other. Power structures can exacerbate this problem, creating political tensions that cause people to hold onto their data.

Breaking down these human and technological barriers takes a mixture of leadership and investment in technology.

A CEO committed to strategic AI will enlist allies in the organisation to help unify its data architecture.

PURSUE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS

AI may eat and drink data, but it must be the right data. Understanding which information you need in order to train your machine-learning models requires multiple kinds of expertise.

The first is domain knowledge.

You need people with an intimate understanding of your organisation's operations and how it uses different kinds of information to achieve specific outcomes.

The second kind of expertise involves data science.

Data scientists work with data engineers to extract, manipulate and prepare data for AI workloads.

Partnering product and service providers that have a track record of navigating the AI design, development and deployment process is a proven way to help overcome these AI hurdles and drive your business to success.

In such a nascent and fast-moving field, it pays to have specialist expertise to help guide you in your journey.

The results could get your business well ahead of the curve, while others try to grapple with the problem in-house.

The writer is vice-president and general manager of Asia Pacific at Hortonworks, a data software company.

Technology