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Unlocking the full potential of artificial intelligence in PH

AI offers genuine, tangible potential in driving the next phase of growth in the Philippines

It was a year ago when we at Microsoft claimed that 2018 would be the year of artificial intelligence (AI).

Indeed, 2018 was a remarkable year for AI where we witnessed this game-changing technology dominating the agendas of leading organizations and even nations.

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How is AI shaping up in 2019? How will the organizations that have deployed AI reap its benefits?

To help answer these questions, we partnered with leading research analyst firm IDC to conduct a study involving 109 business leaders and 100 workers in the Philippines.

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The focus of this report was to better understand how they are embracing AI, harnessing its capabilities and understanding the key barriers to greater and faster adoption.

Tangible AI impact

What’s most exciting to me is that the study found that AI offers genuine, tangible potential in driving the next phase of growth in the Philippines.

The two important markers contributing to a market’s competitiveness are innovation and productivity. The study found that AI is expected to accelerate the rate of innovation improvements by 1.7 times and almost double the rate of employee productivity gains (1.9 times) in the Philippines by 2021.

Hence, there was no surprise that business leaders saw the importance of AI to their organizational growth. Eighty-nine percent of business leaders agreed that AI is instrumental in an organization’s competitiveness in the next three years.

In fact, organizations that have deployed some form of AI today expect their competitiveness to increase 1.5 times in three years.

AI has also created dramatic impact for different sectors of society.

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Microsoft is currently collaborating on an agricultural mobile application called Krops, which has significantly helped local farmers increase their profit from their yield. Krops is an Azure-based e-commerce platform that is supported by our AI-grounded Power BI analytics tool. It has essentially placed control of buying and selling directly into the hands of farmers and buyers.

With Krops, farmers list their location, harvested crops and the price they want to sell them, accompanied with pictures of the produce. These are then listed under location, price and produce type for buyers to choose from. All the buyer needs to do is scroll through the different produce listing, find what he or she needs, click on the purchase and effect a bank transfer that signals the farmer to dispatch the products.

AI, through Power BI, comes in when we talk of supply and demand trends.

Through this tool, field officers are quickly able to see which types of produce or crops are in demand or are in potential glut so farmers can adjust their production volumes and crop types accordingly.

Microsoft also has a cloud-powered initiative with Gawad Kalinga, which is currently implemented in Aklan.

Through community-based volunteers and Microsoft’s AI and cloud technology, we are able to gather data and translate that into information, which is then used to prepare for disasters, including planning the amount of emergency supplies such as food and water and scaling evacuation and response team levels.

Culture, skills

To be competitive in today’s digital-first world, organizations need to be fast adopters of best-in-class technology, including AI. In addition, they need to start building their own unique digital capabilities.

Taken together, we refer to this combination of factors as the “tech intensity” of an organization.

However, in order to fully embrace tech intensity, organizations will also need to invest in their human capital.

The rise of AI means that there is a necessity for workers to reskill and upskill to remain relevant and play a part in the workforce of tomorrow.

In addition, business leaders will need to drive cultural transformation within their organizations that values experimentation, agility, proactiveness and a growth mind-set.

However, the study found that a significant majority of the business leaders and workers believe that cultural traits and behaviors that contribute to AI adoption are not being demonstrated today.

The good news is that, according to our study, 88 percent of businesses are willing to invest in skilling and reskilling of workers to create an AI-ready workforce. However, slightly more than half have yet to implement plans to train their workers. Business leaders must have the urgency to invest in workers’ training, as AI cannot progress without skilled individuals.

The jobs of today will not be the jobs of tomorrow, and already we have seen demand for software engineering roles expand rapidly beyond just the tech sector. However, building an AI-ready workforce does not necessarily mean an acute need for technological skills. The top future skills identified by business leaders include a very important soft skill needed to create new AI-led innovations—adaptability and continuous learning.

At Microsoft, we constantly look for ways to support employers and workers in ways that can help them better adapt in the new digital economy.

Recently, we launched AI Business School that will empower business leaders to be successful and get results from AI. Our master class series will help to get the practical knowledge how to define an AI strategy and use AI with confidence. Also, learners will hear directly from industry experts on how to foster “AI Ready” culture.

In addition, our publicly available Microsoft Professional Program has an AI track, offering AI-specific online courses and instructional videos from expert instructors targeted at IT professionals and tech-savvy executives. We have also developed a developer-focused AI School, which provides online videos and other assets that help build professional AI skills. These are just some of many programs that we are initiating to help democratize the skills required in an AI future.

Ultimately, staying competitive in today’s market requires adaptability from both employers and workers. Organizations with an agile workforce and a progressive and an empathetic management who are willing to deal with change will have a greater chance to succeed. This means that in an AI-enabled future, organizations that have both the skills and the mind-set to adapt are in a better position to create new breakthroughs.

The author is general manager of Microsoft Philippines.

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