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Asia’s AI Agenda: Putting the ‘AI’ in ‘Asia’

Conclusion: A holistic view of productivity development across an entire company and its assets is now emerging.

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from “Asia’s AI Agenda,” a report based on a recent survey of Asia-based senior executives at global organizations. For more about respondents’ opinions on how AI and robotics are affecting Asian business, please begin with the executive summary.

Asian business leaders need to adopt an extreme openness to successfully capitalize on today’s AI and automation trends—a willingness to actively collaborate in data analytics projects and share best practices and insight resulting from their own process automation efforts.

These technologies may have powerful effects on an individual company’s competitiveness (as business leaders assume in the survey results), but the quest for competitive advantage cannot blind business leaders to the greater benefits of collaboration, in much the same way that competitive AI developers themselves are increasingly pooling resources to accelerate their collective progress. It will also require leaders to champion process improvements based on automation and machine learning that are integrated into their firms’ broader talent management programs. AI may start to disintermediate roles and responsibilities across Asia’s economies, but it will enhance and redefine far more, while increasing the productivity of all workers.

The research undertaken for this report has elicited three primary “takeaways,” or themes, for senior executives managing businesses across Asia:

  • AI’s big bang. The C-level executives surveyed and AI industry experts interviewed are largely aligned in the belief that AI and robotics will impact every industry significantly, positively, and all at once. Rising investment in process automation in Asian manufacturing tends to focus much of the industry’s attention, with good reason: three Asian countries—China, Korea, and Japan—purchased nearly half the world’s shipments of 250,000 articulated robots last year. But importantly, survey respondents largely felt that most other sectors, from retail to logistics, would benefit equally from AI technology. AI industry executives feel that big data’s growth in Asia will allow autonomous and intelligent applications to proliferate across almost all industries in the region more or less simultaneously.
  • Aware, but unprepared. C-level executives surveyed also firmly believe that process automation will not only improve their own business performance but impact industry growth overall. Yet only a small percentage of respondents indicate that they are currently investing in AI or robotics in Asia, and although many more say they are considering investment, it is clear that business leaders in the region must take more active steps to prepare for AI’s rapid rise.
  • Change Asia’s workers can believe in. Most Asia-based human resources professionals surveyed feel AI and automation will soon create significant job losses in the region. At first glance, this outlook paints a bleak picture for Asia’s workers, who mostly live in economies where automation threatens the very entry-level jobs upon which they depend to build skills and advance careers. But when asked what sort of impact this would have on the profession overall, most HR industry participants believed that their roles would evolve and expand so that they would manage and develop both human capital and inputs from machines.
  • The emergence of a holistic view of productivity development across an entire company and its assets, coupled with the high hopes Asia-based senior executives have for AI’s influence on their firms’ success, means it is likely that business leaders will focus their investment and adoption efforts on complementing and enhancing job functions with automation, rather than eliminating them.

Next: Asia’s AI Agenda: Survey Demographics and “Firmographics”

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