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October 2, 2023 AI in CT

Business leaders view generative AI as ‘most impactful emerging technology’

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Click below for Kevin Bolen's bio.
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How important of a role do business leaders think generative artificial intelligence will play in the coming months and years?

A major one, according to a recent survey conducted by accounting and consulting firm KPMG.

KPMG’s 2023 “Generative AI Survey,” which received input in June from 200 global business leaders in diverse industries, found that 74% of executives see generative AI as by far the most impactful emerging technology that will impact their business, while 71% plan to implement their first generative AI project within two years.

Business leaders think it has the potential to reshape how they interact with customers, run their workplaces and grow revenue. They will likely use it to create content, engage users, develop software and analyze data, the survey found.

But while there is a bullish outlook on generative AI’s future capabilities, there are also some concerns related to security, reliability, impact on jobs and potential value.

Executives in the KPMG survey cited lack of talent, cost issues and unclear applications as top barriers to implementation.

Kevin Bolen

Kevin Bolen, a principal and head of strategy and investments at KPMG Advisory, has been monitoring and investing in AI technology for the last decade or so.

Bolen said he doesn’t view generative AI as a fleeting technology, but instead, a tool that can have wide applications across various industries.

Businesses of all sizes should start to modestly experiment with generative AI to better understand its potential capabilities, he said.

Bolen’s own firm, which has Connecticut offices in Hartford and Stamford, is making a big bet on the technology.

KPMG in July announced it will spend $2 billion over the next five years on artificial intelligence to automate parts of its tax, audit and consulting businesses.

The firm estimates the investment, which is part of a partnership with Microsoft, will yield more than $12 billion in revenue during that time period by providing faster analysis and allowing employees to spend more time consulting with clients, including helping companies with their own AI adoption.

“There are opportunities for us to leverage the capabilities of AI to streamline and enhance our audit and tax business offerings in terms of what our professionals are spending their time on each day, and making sure that their efforts are able to be focused on the more value-added components versus data assessment, which can now be done potentially more efficiently with AI over time,” Bolen said.

Bolen recently chatted with the Hartford Business Journal about his views on AI’s future impact. Here’s what else he had to say.

The Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

Q. What’s your sense of how fast generative AI adoption is going to take place? Are companies really eager to dive into this?

A. I think there’s a lot of eagerness and a lot of inquiry around this because it made a big media splash. Executives recognize they can’t ignore it.

In terms of their investment, though, most of them are saying they are still one or two years away from implementing their first solution. So, there’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm on what the potential could be, but there are also a lot of open questions.

They are asking: How do I control the output of this? How do I understand where it’s getting its answers from? What are the different use cases I should be prioritizing within my organization? What’s the cost to deploy this? What do I need from an infrastructure standpoint?

It’s going to take a little while before they really start to double down on the transformations.

Q. Are you seeing companies create AI departments within their organizations?

A. In our recent survey, only 5% of the executives said they actually have a governance process in place for AI.

I think that’ll change over time. They’ll start to build out a dedicated team, and you’ll start to see more internal organizational structures dedicated to this. And those teams will be helping decide where AI should be deployed across various functions.

I think the reality is, it will eventually start to touch each area of an organization, but that will need to be done in a coordinated, prioritized, efficiently managed way.

Q. What are the inherent challenges for businesses looking to start from scratch with AI and machine learning?

A. Certainly the talent barrier is one of them. Organizations recognize that there are unique data skills that are needed to understand this technology and where it’s going, and to understand how to best leverage it within the organization.

So, there’s a bit of a talent gap.

You’ve also got this question of infrastructure readiness. Do I have the right data? Do I have the right technology to deploy and utilize this in the most efficient way?

You’ve also got concerns around the risk and regulatory environment. Do I understand the quality of data and information, and how confidently can I rely on the outcome and answers from the AI tool?

Q. Will highly regulated industries be slower adopters of generative AI?

A. I think they’ll be slower adopters, but I don’t think they’re going to wait for the regulations to come clear because that could take years. I think you’ll see them take a variety of different experimental steps in this space.

They will use the technology for things like customer service, which could benefit from an AI-enabled interface without having to worry too much about the regulatory implications.

Q. Is AI being widely used by small and midsize companies? How do they get involved?

A. I don’t think they can ignore the potential productivity gains that are out there. The nice thing is there are generative AI tools that are relatively cheap and inexpensive to access, and can provide immediate benefits.

If you own a small communications PR shop, for example, ChatGPT is pretty good at writing a press release if you feed it the right information. So, training your limited staff on how to make the right types of prompts into the tool to get a first draft of a press release, it could mean much more productive output from that team.

Generative AI tools are also great starting blocks for writing software code. A small software development firm could leverage it to create a first draft code that their team spends time testing and refining, versus having to spend all the time doing the initial coding.

I think you’ll see, over time, more technology becoming available to small and midsize companies as the cost for these systems comes down.

Q. What about the fears that AI will displace workers in certain industries? Are those legitimate concerns, or are they overblown?

A. I think that’s always going to be a concern when you have a new technology like this.

But, if you look back over history, technology really hasn’t wiped out roles, it’s just redefined what those roles need to be going forward.

It’s an evolutionary process. It’s not like this is suddenly going to evaporate an entire industry in six months time. Each wave of new technology has redefined the scope of jobs, but ultimately probably created more jobs because it expanded economic growth as a result.

It’s not radically different from say when Lotus 1-2-3 or Microsoft Excel came out for accountants. We still need accountants, but the automation of the calculations required accountants to learn new skills. Ultimately, it led to productivity gains and allowed workers to focus more on the strategic nature of what they did.

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