Are Irish business leaders ready for the GenAI age?

Majority of Irish business AI activity is still in the assessment and piloting space rather than in full scale deployment, a new report from PwC reveals.

Not only are Irish business leaders wary of GenAI (generative artificial intelligence) from a cybersecurity and risk perspective, but few actually believe GenAI will have a net positive impact on job creation.

While 77% of 100 Irish business leaders surveyed by PwC expect GenAI to have a positive impact on Ireland’s economy in the years ahead, more than half (55%) are of the view that there will be there will be an increase or no net impact on jobs, which is down from 83% last year.

“As GenAI becomes more mainstream and part of the standard skill set, upskilling initiatives should be incorporated into organisations’ learning and development plans”

The survey further reveals that nearly half (46%) of business leaders do not plan to use GenAI to address labour shortages or increase workplace automation, down from 70% reported last year. 

Expected positive impacts include:  increased efficiencies in their employees time at work (88%); significantly change the way their organisation will create and deliver value (83%), increased efficiencies in their own time at work (79%) and improve the quality of their organisation’s products and services (65%).

However only about one-in-four (26%) organisations can point to realised operational efficiencies as a result of AI and GenAI initiatives. 

Survey respondents stated that GenAI will require most workforces to develop new skills (65%), up from 60% in PwC’s latest Irish CEO survey launched in January 2024.

Six out of ten (61%) respondents reported to be planning to appoint a dedicated head of AI across the business, up from 37% last year. 

GenAI adoption remains low

Only 7% said that they have widespread or full adoption of AI technologies in their business.

However, 86% said they are in the early stages of exploration, testing and partial implantation of AI.

According to the survey, key uses for GenAI in the next 12 months will be cyber defence (34%), IT development (22%), improving collaboration (17%), sales and marketing (12%) and enhancing supply chains (10%). 

“The survey confirms the positive potential of AI and GenAI for Ireland’s economy and businesses. 2024 is definitely a ‘moving year’ for Irish organisations in relation to AI,” said David Lee, chief technology officer at PwC Ireland.

“While the number of fully deployed solutions remains low there has been a marked increase over the last six months in organisations who are testing or piloting AI tools. This increase in activity levels also highlights the importance of having the appropriate governance in place to safely deploy AI related technologies.  While there is evidence that more organisations have plans in place to address this, there is more work to be done to give effect to these plans.  This will be increasingly important in the context of the new EU AI Act.   

An overwhelming majority (91%) of Irish business leaders believe that GenAI will increase cybersecurity risks in the year ahead.  The survey further reveals that GenAI is expected to  increase other risks such as legal liabilities and reputation risks (79%), the spread of misinformation (74%) and bias towards specific groups of customers or employees (59%).  

Less than half (40%) of Irish business leaders are confident in their organisation’s ability to assess return on investment of current AI initiatives, down from 45% last year.  

At the same time, over a third (35%) reported not to have realised value from AI and GenAI initiatives in the last 12 months, similar to last year.  Where value was received this was in the following key areas: increased productivity (28%), increased operational efficiencies (26%) and enhanced customer experiences (17%). 

The survey highlights that trust is a critical focus for Irish business leaders.  However, only 7% reported to currently have AI and/or GenAI governance structures in place, similar to last November (6%).  At the same time, a significant majority (75%) are planning or developing a plan to have GenAI governance structures in place, up from 56% last year.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of survey respondents are of the view that GenAI will not enhance their organisation’s ability to build trust with shareholders in the next 12 months.

“Based on our experience in the PwC GenAI Business Centre, we are seeing a hive of activity and innovation taking place so we can expect the adoption of AI technologies to accelerate in the future,” said Aisling Curtis, Market Leader for Strategic Alliances, PwC Ireland.

“AI and GenAI technologies are a great opportunity to disrupt business models and improve productivity. 

“However, it will be important that processes are in place to ensure proper value and return on investment is obtained from AI and GenAI initiatives and the survey highlights that there is still significant work to be done in this area.” 

“To maximise the benefits of AI and GenAI, organisations need to support their employees to ensure that they have the relevant skills, as well as being AI literate under the new EU AI Act. As GenAI becomes more mainstream and part of the standard skill set, upskilling initiatives should be incorporated into organisations’ learning and development plans. Constant learning and relearning will be important.”  

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