For companies wedded to legacy systems and processes, integrating AI can seem daunting. Many opt for half-measures like piloting isolated use cases but constrained adoption delivers limited impact, while AI-powered competitors pull far ahead.

The digital landscape of the 2020s will belong to firms that have moved beyond pilot projects to become AI-native enterprises. Just as mobile tech was necessary to compete in the 2010s, the AI wave is mandatory to ride today.

But the barriers to adoption are not merely technical, they require challenging organisational re-invention. Only leaders ready to fundamentally reimagine how their companies operate, empower employees and deliver value will thrive as AI proliferates across the global economy.

The time for business transformation is now.

The risks of inaction

According to IDC, more than 60% of global organisations have already implemented AI to achieve new levels of efficiency and creativity. Companies which fail to change may swiftly find themselves unable to compete as the speed of AI innovation accelerates.

For companies wedded to legacy systems and processes, integrating AI can seem daunting. Many opt for half-measures like piloting isolated use cases; but constrained adoption delivers limited impact, while AI-powered competitors pull far ahead.

Without enterprise-wide process redesign, AI can only optimise the status quo. Existing bureaucratic silos stifle coordination between AI systems and rigid hierarchies inhibit the agile iteration AI advancement demands.

The graver risk is losing competitive edge. As AI diffuses across industries, laggards will struggle to keep pace with rivals. Like any disruptive innovation, AI disproportionately rewards first movers able to reinvent themselves around its capabilities. Incumbents that fail to transform face decline.

The imperative for transformation

The world isn’t simply evolving; it’s undergoing a profound transformation. To genuinely embrace the potential of AI, organisations must be prepared to transform their basic operations, structures and strategies.

In order to properly utilise AI, businesses need to concentrate on three important domain transformations:

  • Business processes redesigned for workflow automation: Instead of fitting AI into existing processes, workflows should be redesigned to maximise AI’s potential.
  • Workforce: As AI handles routine technical tasks, employees need skills to take on more strategic roles. Companies must invest heavily in training programmes focused on building digital acumen and AI literacy. This empowers workers to use AI tools to enhance critical thinking and creativity.
  • Data: Most legacy firms lack the unified data infrastructure required to smoothly integrate AI solutions. To lay strong foundations, companies must break down outdated information silos. Moving data to the cloud and setting up data lakes gives us enough space and good-quality data to teach AI models.
  • Architecture: Monolithic systems inhibit the deployment velocity and coordination that AI demands. Transitioning to modular cloud-native architectures and microservices makes it far easier to rapidly prototype, test and iterate on AI applications. This architectural agility is critical to scaling AI across the enterprise.

Transformation in action

  • Tesla isn’t just an electric car company. The company is using artificial intelligence to develop self-driving capabilities. This shows how a business can transform itself by integrating AI into its core operations and strategies.
  • Netflix was mainly focused on mailing out DVDs to customers. Now, after undergoing a major business transformation, Netflix has become a powerhouse in video streaming. A big part of this transformation has been driven by the AI algorithms powering its content recommendations. This has allowed Netflix to keep improving its service and stay ahead of shifting consumer demands.
  • Starbucks is shutting down outdated retail management systems in favour of AI-powered mobile platforms. This provides baristas with real-time inventory and customer insights previously unattainable. Reframing processes around AI capabilities have unlocked major operational gains.

Guiding successful transformation

Executing sweeping transformation is far easier said than done. However, adhering to the following basic tenets will make the journey easier:

  • Overcoming change resistance: Foster a culture that views change as an ally. Engage and educate stakeholders at every level about the benefits of transformation.
  • Adhering to agile iteration: In the rapidly evolving landscape of AI, agility is crucial. Adopting iterative approaches allows businesses to adapt and pivot as needed.
  • Strong leadership commitment: Transformation, at its heart, is a top-down approach. Leaders must be the torchbearers, instilling a vision and ensuring alignment across the board.
  • Recruit AI experts: “AI literacy” experts well-versed in its technical concepts but able to explain its value in plain business terms help adoption.

Are you ready to transform your business?

Here are three steps to get started on your transformation journey:

  • Conduct an AI readiness assessment to identify the biggest opportunities and challenges for AI adoption across your business processes, workforce, data architecture and organisational structure. This will provide a roadmap to guide your transformation.
  • Build a strong digital culture focused on agility, innovation and constant learning. Foster an open mindset to change throughout the organisation. Provide training in AI skills and concepts for employees at all levels.
  • Start implementing quick AI wins while laying the groundwork for larger initiatives. Pursue agile piloting and iteration rather than long, drawn-out deployments. This will deliver impactful results while building momentum.

The future belongs to those who take action now; with the right vision and commitment to organisational transformation, you can become an AI-powered industry leader. Visit SAP Business Transformation Services to learn more about business transformation services and get started on your transformation journey today.

  • The authors, Carola Feind-Just and Mohan Shekar, work at SAP
  • Read more articles by SAP Africa on TechCentral
  • This article was originally published by Forbes
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