Generative AI (GenAI) and AI will significantly transform industries in the future, according to 91% of South African respondents (global: 81%) to the Dell Technologies Innovation Catalyst Research.

This drops to 89% (global: 91%) for organisations reporting high (15%-25%) 2023 revenue growth.

Based on responses from 6,600 IT and business decision makers across 40 countries, the research suggests that while there is broad optimism for AI and GenAI, the extent to which organisations are prepared for the rapid pace of change varies greatly. Locally, 92% (global: 82%) say they are well positioned competitively and have a solid strategy.

At the same time, 28% (global: 48%) of the respondents are uncertain what their industry will look like in the next three to five years and 31% (global: 57%) report struggling to keep pace. They cite the lack of the right talent (33%, global: 35%), data privacy and cybersecurity concerns (35%, global: 31%) and lack of budget (36%, global: 29%) as challenges they face in driving innovation.

South African respondents cite GenAI’s transformative or significant potential to deliver value in improving IT security posture (45%, global: 52%), productivity gains (41%, global: 52%) and to improve customer experience (40%, global: 51%). They are also aware of challenges to overcome: Seventy percent (global: 73%) agreed that their data and IP are too valuable to be placed in a GenAI tool where a third party may have access.

More broadly, responses suggest that organisations are working through GenAI practicalities as they transition from ideation to implementation, although only 21% (global: 58%) say they have begun implementing GenAI. As organisations increase adoption, concern centres around understanding where risks reside and who is responsible for them. Seventy-one percent (global: 77%) agree that the organisation, rather than the machine, the user or the public, is responsible for any AI malfunction or undesired behaviour.

Doug Woolley, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa, says: “GenAI is the next big leap for technology, promising to bring unseen levels of productivity and efficiency to businesses worldwide. We can expect faster decision-making, streamlined workflows and smarter data analysis.”

Cybersecurity more broadly continues to be a pain point for organisations. These concerns are well-founded, as 81% of South African respondents (global: 83%) say they have been impacted by a security attack in the past 12 months. The majority 91% (global: 89%) are pursuing a Zero Trust deployment strategy and 87% (global: 78%) say they have an Incident Response Plan in place to recover from a cyberattack or data leakage.

The top three cited issues included malware, phishing and data breaches. Issues with phishing are indicative of a wider problem highlighted in the report, which is the role employees play in the threat landscape. For example, 67% of local and global respondents believe some employees go around IT security guidelines and practices because they delay efficiency and productivity, and 69% (global: 65%) say that insider threats are a big concern. This indicates a need to focus on training as employees are the first line of defence.

The research also reveals modern data infrastructure’s critical role as technologies like GenAI gather pace and data volumes increase. Investing in a modern, scalable infrastructure was cited as the number one area of improvement for businesses to accelerate innovation. Most IT decision makers (85%, global: 82%) say they prefer an on-prem or hybrid model, to address the challenges they foresee with implementing GenAI.

The ability to share data across the business is also a key part of the innovation puzzle, with only 31% across the EMEA region (global: 33%) saying they can turn data into real-time insights today to support innovation efforts. However, responses suggest organisations are acting on this challenge, with 91% of South African respondents (global: 82%) saying that data is the differentiator and their GenAI strategy must involve using and protecting that data. Thirty-seven percent of EMEA respondents (global: 42%) also claim they anticipate that the bulk of their data will come from the edge in the next five years.

Other research findings include:

* Skills: Sixty-five percent (global: 67%) claim there is currently a shortage of talent required for innovation in their industry. Learning agility and desire, AI fluency, creativity and creative thinking rank as the top skills and competencies for the next five years.

* Sustainability: Worldwide, forty-two percent believe ‘driving environmentally sustainable innovations’ is an important improvement area. Energy efficiency is high on the agenda, with 84% (global: 79%) experimenting with as-a-Service solutions to manage their IT environment more efficiently and 78% (global: 73%) actively moving AI inferencing to the edge to become more energy efficient (for example, smart buildings).

* Making IT a strategic partner: Currently, 71% of business decision makers (global: 81%) have reasons to exclude IT decision makers from strategic conversations, yet both departments ranked a stronger relationship as the second most important improvement area.