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The pandemic pressed pause on A.I. investment

May 10, 2021, 9:48 AM UTC

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Good morning. 

Investment in A.I. paused during the pandemic, as Fortune’s Jonathan Vanian reported last month.

That was a surprise, since so many companies have reported that digital transformation dramatically accelerated. A new report coming out this morning from IBM adds some texture to that trend. The company surveyed several thousand IT decision makers in seven countries and found only 31% said their company “has actively deployed A.I. as part of its business operations.” That was actually down slightly from 34% in a similar October 2019 survey. A larger 41% say they are “exploring, but have not deployed, A.I. in business operations,” up slightly from 39% in 2019.  

Limited A.I. expertise and knowledge remains the top obstacle to A.I. adoption, followed by data complexity and data silos. I asked IBM CEO Arvind Krishna Friday what accounts for the slowdown.  

“When people went through the pandemic, the first thing they invested in was resiliency and making sure people could work remotely,” he told me. 

Shortage of good A.I. talent was also a restrictive factor. Data complexity and data silos “reared their head in a significant way.” But the slowdown may just be a pause before the storm. 

“Almost all companies recognize A.I. is going to improve the customer experience, automation inside the enterprise, and everything around natural language processing. Those are the three areas where we see huge amounts of interest. People were pausing because they were squeezing ten years of digital transformation into two years.” 

But now that that’s done, A.I. looks to be the second wave. “Significant investments are planned,” Krishna says. 

By the way, Krishna is one of dozens of global CEOs who will be joining us next month for the virtual Fortune Global Forum, where we will explore the dramatic changes in business that the pandemic provoked. 

Others who’ve confirmed include: Kevin Johnson of Starbucks, Chuck Robbins of Cisco, Corie Barry of Best Buy, Julie Sweet of Accenture, Kathy Warden of Northrop Grumman, Bom Kim of Coupang, Jane Jie Sun of Trip.com, Ben van Beurden of Shell, Michael Wirth of Chevron, David Taylor of P&G, Geraldine Matchett of DSM, Michelle Gass of Kohl’s, Warren East of Rolls-Royce, Ana Botín of Santander, Carlos Brito of AB InBev, Changpeng Zhao of Binance, Michael Roman of 3M, Revathi Advaithi of Flex, Kewsong Lee of Carlyle Group, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell. If you are a CEO and want to attend, shoot me a note or apply here.

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.

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