Spending on artificial intelligence technology surpassed $200bn in 2018 and is tipped to double by 2025. Some 91% of enterprises have already deployed AI solutions or plan to within the next three years, while 86% of C-suite executives wish they had invested sooner.

But despite warnings that businesses need to embrace AI technology or risk failure, is AI really the necessity that it is made out to be?

Speaking at the launch of MMC Ventures’ The State of AI: Divergence report in London, Founder and CEO of meal ingredient subscription service Gousto, Timo Boldt, and Senior Partner at financial services management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, Nick Harrison, shared their thoughts on businesses’ current approach to AI implementation.

AI implementation for the sake of it

In the past three years, the number of companies that have deployed AI initiatives has gone from one in 25 to one in three.

According to the MMC Ventures report, 40% of top performing Chief Information Officers view artificial intelligence and machine learning as the technology area that will produce the greatest results for their businesses. This puts AI far ahead of cloud (12%), mobile technologies like 5G (7%), blockchain (5%) and automation (3%).

With 8% of all new startups in Europe considered an AI company, and 87% of them selling business solutions, it is becoming easier for businesses to achieve quick and easy AI implementation. However, in order to take advantage of what AI can offer, businesses must approach this in the right way.

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“Forget about AI. The question is: what are your biggest business problems?” Harrison said. “Second question: how are you going to solve them?”

The answer to the second question, Harrison explained, may be AI. However, this is simply “one tool in the toolbox”. Instead of implementing AI for the sake of it, businesses need to identify problems that AI can solve and evaluate whether it is the best solution.

“There are many companies [that implement AI before identifying the use case], and that’s exactly the wrong way to go about this,” Harrison said. “Start with the business question first, get the data sorted out behind that question, and then work out what to do.”

Making data and AI part of your culture

Gousto, founded in 2012 by two tech-savvy entrepreneurs, has embraced technology from the beginning. The startup uses AI to better understand customers and the meals that they enjoy, providing personalised meal plans to suit each user.

However, for businesses with decades, if not centuries, of history, adapting to an increasing digital world can prove difficult.

According to Boldt, CEO of Gousto, data is a mindset, and in order to make use of that data, companies must make it part of their culture.

“You can’t just switch it on or buy a piece of software. I think that’s the surest way of failing in the mid-term,” Boldt said. “I think it comes down to you as a leader, what culture you create. Do you build a meritocracy where people feel empowered to work hard and solve big problems, and make it attractive enough through talent academies and so on?”

Only once this has been achieved, Boldt believes, will companies begin to see the rewards.

“Once you have the data, it’s clean, it’s all there, you can then build amazing, amazing things.”