Sri Lanka’s AI ranking is very low – Expert

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Sri Lanka, as a nation, is one of the lowest ranking countries in the world in terms of AI or Artificial Intelligence mostly because companies have not adopted AI at the same level as companies in most countries have done, AI expert Dr. Romesh Ranawana said.

Addressing a recent a webinar titled ‘Artificial Intelligence: What Board Members Should Know’, organised by the  Innovation & Technology Committee of the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) he said that that type of transformation must be led by the Boards of the companies that want to adopt AI.

AI is quite a buzzword these days, and it is changing every industry from finance, manufacturing, retail etc. Just like digital disruption changed the world, where more than half of the Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 have gone out of business.

According to Ranawana, AI too will bring in a similar level of transformation where those companies who adopt AI in the proper way and proper strategy are forging ahead of others in terms of scalability, capacity, products and features that they offer.

He added that adopting AI requires a clear long-term strategy, significant investment and building of capacity. “Transformation or AI adoption is not a small decision, and it is not a one-off investment, but one which is made over a period with a gradual increase in capacity and what you can do with AI. Experimenting with small AI use cases rarely shows significant benefits. Companies that adopt AI across the entire company and transform its processes, technology, and people are the ones which get the value of AI.”

AI is important for companies to increase profits and customer satisfaction, streamline processes, offer personalised services, and introduce new products and services. “An organisational transformation is needed to get the most out of AI investments and contribute to the bottom line. It involves strategy and execution, a companywide transformation of staff and processes, building capability foundations and capacity even if you decide to outsource building the systems. Systems for governance and compliance are important to be put in place. A significant change is required in the main elements of the company – people, process, and technology which needs to be led by the Board”.

He also pointed out that many of the Boards have just a few members who are comfortable with advanced technology.  Relying on a single techie is no replacement for having a full Board mastering at least a basic understanding of AI and its disruptive potential. Boards and companies must move fast to remain competitive. It is important to understand that AI is math, not magic and a well-run AI project should be easily understood. Companies need to get the most out of the data that they possess. AI is an operating expense and not a capital investment and Boards should understand that it is a journey where you incrementally improve your systems as you go.

“If an AI system that is being developed for you sounds very complicated, the chances are that it isn’t laid out properly or it lacks a proper strategy. Executives and Boards need to understand the system before they can develop the strategy and long-term priorities,” said Dr. Ranawana and he suggested that the Boards do their own research on what AI can do for the company which will allow them to define strategic direction and decide which technology should be adopted and what products and services will the company be able to get out of these systems. It will also give you an idea of how your processes will change based on the AI that you are bringing into the company.

Speaking of barriers to AI adoption in companies, Dr. Ranawana said one of the biggest barriers is the cultural barrier including resistance to change, not seeing the need for AI including understanding the advantages that AI could offer. Awareness and education are key to overcoming these barriers. He also stated that other barriers included fear of redundancy, shortage of talent, and lack of a strategic approach to AI in the company.