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When COVID-19 upended the world, businesses doubled down on digital transformation and raced ahead using artificial intelligence (AI) to meet new challenges. Now, according to our research, many organizations appear to be experiencing COVID-induced AI whiplash.

While nearly half of the executives surveyed by KPMG LLP (KPMG) at the start of 2021 say that they are concerned that their overall industry may be moving too fast with AI adoption, nearly all wish their own organization would move even faster. Executives also harbor a nagging feeling that everyone else is doing better than they are. Nearly eight in 10 say AI is to help businesses is still more hype than reality, and nearly two-thirds believe the U.S. is trailing other countries in taking advantage of the technology.

Impossible contradictions? We see a coherent narrative behind these findings. Faced with a stark reminder of what is possible with AI -- COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time, for example – it is natural for many executives to worry that their own organization may not be keeping pace. And trite as it may seem, it is worth remembering that the grass usually looks greener on the other side.

Executives also may be forgiven for viewing AI as overhyped if, as is too often the case, their organization has taken a piecemeal approach to the technology, proving use cases here and there only to find that scaling them across the enterprise can be an order of magnitude more challenging. The hurdles can be especially high at organizations that have yet to lay the necessary groundwork for AI, from data mastery to cultural transformation.

The good news is that AI’s promise is nonetheless becoming more real everyday. Forty-three percent of executives say AI is fully functional at scale within their organization, and nearly all are confident AI could help their own industry address its biggest problems. Most are educating their workforces about AI, and the vast majority believe their employees have the skillsets needed for its adoption.

This year’s second annual survey was created to help AI leaders across industries and functions see how their counterparts are using AI to solve major industry problems; identify AI-related pain points, risks and challenges by industry; and show where businesses are focusing their AI agencies in 2021 and beyond Along with these survey insights, we sought to provide pragmatic guidance on the path towards realizing AI’s promise.

We believe that promise starts with a comprehensive data strategy; a robust AI platform, infrastructure and data pipeline; and a talented workforce with full-stack AI, digital and related skillsets - or an external partner who can provide those capabilities at scale. It includes employee upskilling. Cultural change. Deep involvement by the business, not just IT. Ethical use of AI, and, as our survey respondents indicate, guidance from the government on how AI will be regulated going forward. Finally, it requires a commitment to a new reality in which speed and innovation are imperatives. Having seen what is possible with AI, we can never return to pre-COVID 19 pace of AI adoption.

The excerpt was taken from the KPMG Thought Leadership entitled Thriving in an AI world.