Businesses have high hopes for AI. Are their networks ready?

  • Global tech leaders are expecting to see moderate to high growth over the next 12 months, despite macroeconomic and political concerns 

  • Investment in AI is now the top priority among technology leaders

  • But only a small amount of those surveyed said their networks are ready to support AI

Business leaders have high expectations for the year ahead, thanks to the increasing ubiquity and potential of artificial intelligence (AI), a new study shows. The International Data Corporation (IDC) canvassed over 650 global technology leaders, and 81% of them expect to see moderate to high growth for their businesses in the next 12 months.

The study (which was commissioned by Expereo) found 69% of businesses are preparing to take on AI or already using it at scale. However, there are some roadblocks to get past, among them the need for robust network infrastructure to fully support AI. Only 14% of respondents said their networks are ready for that.

Dan Beevers, Expereo's chief customer officer, noted technology investments are a priority for most business leaders today. The number one driver? A desire to enable cost-saving automation.

"How do they take out costs or reinvest that cost in growth opportunities, by finding ways to automate business operations and processes that may be doing a very functional role but can be quite costly," Beevers continued. About 60% of CIOs agreed that automating operations and processes have moved up in their consideration from being "either important or extremely important," he told Fierce Network.

Automation and AI are applicable to everything from customer service and back office processes to finance and HR. Beevers said many leaders are looking for ways to divest from laborious processes, as well as find ways to get insight-led data.

But several factors are preventing or limiting organizations’ networks from supporting large data/AI projects, the report indicated.

For example, networks that do not scale flexibly on demand or deliver high application performance hinder companies from implementing large AI projects. Other issues include lack of network bandwidth for very large data transfer, or networks that don’t provide adequate connectivity to the cloud or between clouds.

Additionally, security and cloud, as well as cloud connectivity, remain high on the agenda. The report found 42% of respondents named AI as their number one technology investment priority, only narrowly beating security (37%) and cloud or multi-cloud networking/ connectivity (35%).

The Expereo report underscores that "all three are crucial components of any organization’s AI strategy."

Due to skill shortages and insufficient AI training infrastructure, training AI models at scale will increasingly rely on cloud networks that need enhancement for cloud and multi-cloud access. The surveyed organizations said they consider cloud connectivity to be the most important aspect of networking, as it supports overall cloud usage and migration as well as expanding, high-priority AI and automation initiatives.

According to Expereo, companies are clear about their network requirements: they seek service providers that can deliver reliable, flexible and agile networks with visibility and cloud connectivity features.

Macro roadblocks 

Ultimately, there are a ton of different factors that can influence what each business can achieve in their digital transformation and beyond.

The Expereo study also highlighted the ongoing instability and unpredictability in the global macroeconomic environment, along with "persistent digital business gaps." It noted that AI readiness varies significantly based on a company's size, growth prospects and digital maturity, with AI poised to further widen the gap between industry leaders and laggards.

When asked about the biggest risks to their growth ambitions over the next 12 months, 38% of global respondents pointed to geopolitical issues as a primary concern. Other significant risks included inflation (34%), economic uncertainty (32%), uncontrolled spending by business lines (31%) and network performance/connectivity issues (30%).

Key challenges in executing digital initiatives include IT integration complexity (41%), partners' capabilities (40%) and lack of regional expertise (35%). To solve for some of these problems, organizations are reigniting talent acquisition and reskilling plans to address emerging needs.

Beevers said the CIO's role especially is changing over time to focus on growth through supporting and developing their business' digital transformation journey.

Expereo claims that many businesses have problem with "short termism." That is to say, one-third (33%) of global enterprises surveyed admitted to a short-term focus, meaning their digital strategies are enterprise-oriented but typically short-lived, and they often have isolated digital excellence across IT and business units. 

Only 22% of global enterprises have reached full digital maturity, which the company defined as “a scenario where a long-term digital business strategy is in place and there’s an orchestrated enterprise-wide digital-first trajectory.”

"[CIOs] need to lead the way to develop a more comprehensive long term, almost like 360 degree in digital strategy that encompasses all the technology stack," Beevers added. "From AI to automation to how cloud performance works, security, network visibility and also just the core connectivity. To do that, it's about making sure they've got the right talent in the organization."

For many smaller businesses, the CIO role can likely handle this challenge. However, Expereo’s study suggests that much like the rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer, we could see more business roles specifically designed for AI.

Some organizations are even creating a "Chief AI Officer" role to address these concerns. Ethics in AI use is a critical concern, and the CAIO could be another person at the table, among CEOs, CIOs, CSOs and ESG heads, to talk about how their organizations are using AI with sustainability and ethical standards in mind.

The right leadership support in organizations can help find "equilibrium of how do you make sure you move with that technology at pace, but not to the level where it's running away with you," said Beevers.

Lastly, companies are recognizing they can't do it alone. They've got to find the right partners to work with, either to provide the technology or to help them understand what capabilities they need, Beevers added. From technology partners to consultants, these relationships can "actually enhance their capabilities internally, whether that's leadership or the or the workforce itself."