How AI is being used in South Africa

 ·10 Jun 2019

New research shows artificial intelligence (AI) pilots and experimentation are now prolific across South African companies, with businesses showing a willingness to embrace AI and experiment using new technology.

Microsoft has partnered with tax advisory services EY to develop a report which aims to get a deeper understanding of how companies currently manage their AI activities and how they address the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Nearly half (46%) of South African companies say they are already actively piloting AI within their organisations.

Businesses are experimenting with a range of different technologies, including Chatbots, Robotic Process Automation and Advanced Analytics. Two thirds (67%) of South African organisations pinpointed machine learning as the AI technology most useful to them, followed by smart robotics and biometrics.

“Many AI experts argue that it’s not simply a lack of technical skills that slows the progress of AI, but also a greater need for a culture of experimentation. Though AI is in its early stages of development in South Africa, it bodes well for AI maturity in the country that businesses are actively experimenting with exciting new AI use cases,” said Lillian Barnard, MD at Microsoft.

South Africa’s overall investment in AI is significant, with US$1.6 billion invested over the past 10 years. The bulk of this investment went towards IoT and social media, followed by planning, scheduling and optimisation, as well as smart mobile.

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High expectations for the future

Looking ahead, almost all (96%) local businesses expect to gain significant financial benefits by using AI solutions to optimise their operations.

The top use cases for AI listed by companies surveyed include automation (83%) and prediction (70%). Use cases in question include a broad range of applications, from increasing employee productivity to predicting customer churn or consumer conversion rates and proactively managing machinery downtime.

While South Africa’s unemployment rates are high, understanding of AI is low. This typically means that much of the workforce’s excitement around AI is quickly replaced by fear of job losses, Microsoft said.

“To realise the true value of AI, organisations need to understand the scope and risks specific to them. Then they need to define the value and capabilities needed to integrate, activate and incorporate intelligent, robotic and autonomous capabilities. We hope that this study, which we are proud to have partnered with our alliance partner Microsoft, opens doors for South African organisations to use AI to improve business processes and accessibility for non-technical users,” said Brian Lewkowicz, Lead on Intelligent Automation at EY Africa.

As such, companies should implement change management to help employees across the organisation understand that AI helps enhance productivity and can reduce the amount of time they spend on menial tasks.

Read: Microsoft data centres will create 100,000 new jobs in South Africa

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