Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Saturday, October 24, 2020
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AI Developers Adjust to ‘New Normal’ 

The pandemic has shifted the focus of disrupted enterprise AI and machine learning projects from financial analysis and consumer insight to cost cutting and customer engagement, according to a vendor survey that also forecasts increased AI spending.

The assessment released this week by machine learning operations specialist Algorithmia says the pandemic has prompted a reassessment of AI project priorities and spending plans. Remote work, education,

online transactions and attendant data security concerns have persuaded AI developers to push to production models that can cut costs while reducing friction in interacting with online customers. Fifty-nine percent of the more than 100 IT directors polled this past summer said cost optimization was their highest priority, with customer experience just a percentage point lower.

Pre-pandemic, AI projects were already listed as a top priority by 65 percent of respondents. Over the last six months, 33 percent of IT managers said AI applications have moved to the top of their to-do lists.

“Projects that produce short-term cost savings or provide top-line insights about customer behavior are top priority,” the survey found. “Long-term process automation and back-office projects have decreased in priority.”

Previous AI surveys by Seattle-based Algorithmia found that an overwhelming majority (91 percent) of IT managers surveyed said they planned to spend more than $1 million annually on AI application development. Half now say they expect to spend more on those projects.

“There is an urgent need to show results from AI [and] ML projects in a time of economic uncertainty,” the survey noted.

Despite shifting priorities, the survey indicates that the size of AI development teams hasn’t change much during the pandemic, with only 27 percent of respondents saying they have hired more developers. About half said developer team size remain the same.

At least some of those funds will be spent on recruitment as companies struggle to find developers with AI and machine learning skills. Expertise in security (69 percent), data management (64 percent) and systems integration (62 percent) were in greatest demand, according to the Algorithmia survey released on Wednesday (Sept. 23).

Prior to the pandemic, data management was the highest priority as companies were swamped with unstructured data. The pandemic has slightly shifted skills priorities to data security as fraud risks increase.

“When we come through the pandemic, the companies that will emerge the strongest will be those that invested in tools, people and processes that enable them to scale delivery of AI and ML-based applications to production,” said Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer.

“We believe investments in AI [and] ML operations now will pay off for companies sooner than later,” Oppenheimer added.

The Algorithmia survey is available here.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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