European business leaders know their organisations would benefit from AI and ML, despite the differing views on these technologies in the boardroom.
This is among the findings from Workday’s new study on how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will impact the future of work.

The report, “Preparing to Power Up: EMEA Leads the Way to an AI-Driven Future”, also highlights data silos and bureaucracy as the biggest barriers to adoption.

Key EMEA findings include:

Optimism and high investment appetite are attributed to better regulation

Fifty-two percent of EMEA business leaders welcome the opportunity presented by AI and ML for their organisations, compared to 50% in the Americas and 46% in Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ).

Austria (62%) and the UK (60%) lead the way as the most enthusiastic adopters of AI and ML, while South Africa (46%), Norway (40%), Denmark (44%), and Germany (45%) are among the least enthusiastic.

Moreover, 44% of EMEA companies have made changes to ensure that their businesses are agile enough for resources to be reallocated at speed and at scale.

The survey also suggested that leaders in EMEA are generally more trusting of AI and ML. Following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, the EU is in the process of proposing a new legal framework for AI – the EU AI Act. This is focused on strengthening governance around data quality, transparency, human oversight, encouraging greater trust in the technology.

The enthusiasm for AI and ML among EMEA leaders, backed by regulatory advances, is contributing to the higher investment appetite. Northern European organisations are leading the way in AI and ML investment, while Southern European organisations have a more conservative investment approach.

Boardroom views and adoption of AI and ML differ

While enthusiasm is high, different functions have different views on AI and ML, and also on the implementation of these technologies.

CEOs champion AI and ML: A significant 53% of EMEA CEOs are excited to use these technologies in their organisations. However, they are concerned about the potential mistakes that AI and ML could introduce.

Finance is leading in implementation: Finance teams are the most progressive in implementing these technologies in their daily work–19% of CFOs said their teams are scaling AI or are at maturity, which is almost three times the level of finance teams in the Americas (7%). EMEA finance leaders are using AI/ML to improve forecasting, budget decisions and scenario planning, as well as to support strategic planning across business lines.

HR lags in adoption: HR shows the slowest AI adoption rates, with 44% of EMEA HR leaders excited about the potential but 49% yet to embark on AI and ML adoption within their teams.

IT Leaders are most likely (51%) to say that AI and ML will make it easier for IT to support other business teams or enable them to deliver more strategic value. This indicates that there is a positive cultural shift towards AI and ML within EMEA IT teams.

Data silos and bureaucracy are holding organisations back

In addition to the varying adoption rates, the development of AI and ML technologies is also impacted by other challenges. The study reveals that data management and bureaucracy are holding business leaders back from fully embracing and adopting AI and ML. 60% of EMEA organisations say their data is siloed, which makes it difficult for them to access usable insights in real time. Moreover, only a third (33%) of organisations – and 36% in South Africa – have made good progress removing bureaucratic processes that slow down decision-making.

For many organisations, greater use of AI and ML demands a significant cultural shift – but for this to happen, top-level management needs to be on board. Yet 37% of EMEA leaders (42% in South Africa) believe the leaders of their organisations do not yet recognise just how pivotal AI and ML will be, according to the research.

“If managers themselves have a good understanding of AI and they’re willing to help their employee to accept the AI, and appreciate the value and merit of it, then they can help their employee to work with it in a professional manner”, says Kirk Chang, professor of technovation and people management, and director for the Centre of Innovation, Management and Enterprise at the University of East London. “When the employees have a better understanding of AI, for example, and what they can do, they are more likely to accept it and work with it.

“The value and interpretation of human rights is very, very different. This has affected everything we do in our workplace “In order to make sure AI can work, we really have to understand the contextual factors – and culture is one of them.

“Human beings are not willing to give their power away. They don’t want to share their responsibility with AI for different reasons. Maybe for the fear, maybe for the job opportunity, maybe they worry other people will have different views about their status or their leadership. There are a lot of mixed feelings there,” he adds.

It’s time to act now

EMEA executives are excited about the potential of AI and ML to enhance their businesses, especially when used to improve HR or finance processes. By adopting cutting-edge solutions powered by AI and ML, organisations can significantly improve their business outcomes and drive success.

“To maximise business value from AI and ML, start by aligning your expectations with reality and prioritise initiatives on solving business problems,” advises Jens L√∂hmar, chief technology officer: continental and DACH at Workday. “Ensure your organisation is equipped to implement these technologies effectively by identifying and addressing capability gaps.

“Choose AI and ML opportunities that align with your business strategy and needs and create a clear roadmap with defined goals and metrics. Continuously evaluate their effectiveness and adapt to your organisation’s evolving needs and the changing business landscape.”