The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to transform the nature of work and the collaboration among human beings and machines in organisations. Managers must learn to deal with this disruptive technology because AI will significantly change how they and those report to them perform their work. Research states that managers are not quite on the same page when it comes to AI. Their readiness and enthusiasm for AI vary extensively across organisational levels and geographies - raising serious questions about how organisations can best adopt AI and get the most business value from it.
Accenture's Survey of 1,770 managers in 14 countries and interviews with 37 senior executives responsible for digital transformation reveals patterns in managers' attitudes towards AI. Some of the respondents strongly believe in AI's unmatched potential and others view it as a threat. To that point, 84 percent of all managers in the survey said they expect AI to make their work more effective and interesting, yet 36 percent expressed fear that it will adversely impact their jobs.
Moreover, top managers encourage the opportunity to integrate AI into work practices, but middle level and front-line managers are less optimistic.
This will be aggravated as intelligent agents' capabilities get better from automation of administrative work to advisory roles that support critical problem solving and decision making. Lately, OnCorps - a Cambridge, Massachusetts tech start up launched an advanced analytics platform that performs real-time individual diagnostic visualizations, benchmarking, data correlation and nudges users to make better decisions.
IBM's Watson platform enables organisations of any size to use cloud-based applications as advisors in contexts such as security analytics, medical diagnosis, drug discovery, financial advice, and sales coaching. AI's ability to facilitate such work may make managers uncomfortable. When asked about the trust on the advice of intelligence machines in making business decisions in the future, 46 percent of the top manager strongly agreed with the statement. But only 24 percent of middle managers and 14 percent of front-line managers expressed the same level of agreement.
Further, when asked whether they would be comfortable with AI monitoring and evaluating their work, 42 percent of the top managers in the survey strongly agreed, while only 15 percent of first-line managers demonstrated the same opinion. Survey results indicating managers' willingness to accept responsibility for intelligence machines' actions followed a similar pattern. Top managers expressed the greatest level of acceptance (45 percent strongly agreed) whereas front-line managers indicated the least (17 percent strongly agreed).
Although the survey indicated a wide range of support for AI among all ranks, drilling deeper into the results - respondents expect administrative tasks to be most significantly impacted by the rise of AI in the workplace over the next five years. However, when it comes to engaging with people and communities or strategy and innovation, few believe AI will make much of a difference.
Despite relative agreement, disparities began to arise when respondents were asked about their willingness to augment or automate certain roles. Top managers are the most eager to automate important parts of their work and identified four administrative and analytical tasks they were willing to turn over to intelligent systems. Middle and first line managers only targeted “monitor and report performance” for automation.
There are national cultural differences in opinion about AI that should be accounted too. For instance, managers in emerging countries are more receptive to intelligent machines than those in developed countries. In the survey, 46 percent of managers in emerging economies strongly agreed that they would trust intelligent systems’ advice when making decisions in the future. Only 18 percent of their counterparts in developed nations said the same. Digging down into the results, we found that Indian and Irish managers differ the most in their responses to this question, with 56 percent and 8 percent strongly agreeing, respectively. If respondents who answered “somewhat agree” are also included, then 95 percent of Indian and 52 percent of Irish managers would trust the advice of AI – still a notable lacuna.
Given this information, what steps organisation should take to resolve differences in attitudes towards AI and enhance acceptance of such technologies?
The diversity in readiness and resistance to AI across ranks and geographies indicate that companies should tailor AI adoption strategies to local and organisational culture. It's all about an employee in the cubicle or at the desk and the way they use.
The organisation can benefit tremendously by involving managers in AI adoption stage, regardless of their rank, nationality or tenure.
Executives should remind themselves that AI improves with experience. The more managers and intelligence machines interact, the more they learn from each other.
When managers are involved in initial AI adoption and training stage, they gain a sense of ownership throughout the learning process as well as get familiar with intelligence machines. By deepening the understanding of the "nuts and bolts" behind AI, managers can more readily see AI as something that amplifies, not eliminates human potential.
When it comes to the benefits of Artificial Intelligence, depending on how it is being introduced in an organisation has the potential to either divide enterprise or drastically improve efficiency.
Since AI will play an imperative role in the future of business management, executives will have to decide whether to passively accept whatever arises or whether they will actively shape the future will the help of emerging technologies.
Kolbjørnsrud, V., Thomas, R.J. and Amico, R. (2016) “The promise of artificial intelligence: Redefining management in the workforce of the future,”Accenture Institute for High-Performance Research Report, May 19. www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-promise-artificial-intelligence
Brynjolfsson, E., and McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. WW Norton & Company.
Shanks, R., Sinha, S., and Thomas, R. (2016). “Judgment calls: Preparing managers to thrive in the age of intelligent machines,” Accenture Strategy, www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-judgment-calls
Gombolay, M.C. and Shah, J.A. (2014) “Challenges in Collaborative Scheduling of Human-Robot Teams” and “Artificial Intelligence for Human-Robot Interaction,” papers from the 2014 AAAI Fall Symposium.
Deepak Amirtha Raj is a Research & Strategy Analyst in the Risk and Compliance sector. He focusses on Business Strategy Research, Emerging Technologies and Advanced Analytics. He studied business at Saint Joseph’s College and had previously worked with Royal Bank of Scotland as Business Process Analyst.