Most CEOs say they’ll take a wait-and-see approach to AI — but risk being left behind

About 90% of CEOs are still waiting for generative AI to move from hype to reality or pursuing limited experimentation in their business, according to a Jan. 11 report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

In addition, 66% of executives feel ambivalent or dissatisfied with their company’s progress with AI or GenAI so far.

“This is the year to turn GenAI’s promise into tangible business success,” Christoph Schweizer, BCG’s CEO, said in a statement.

“Almost every CEO, myself included, has experienced a steep learning curve with GenAI,” he said. “When technology is changing so quickly, it can be tempting to wait and see where things land. But with GenAI, the early winners are experimenting, learning and building at scale.”

In a survey of more than 1,400 C-suite executives, those who voiced dissatisfaction with GenAI progress cited three main concerns — a lack of talent and skills (62%), an unclear AI roadmap and investment priorities (47%) and an absence of strategy around responsible AI (42%).

About 6% of companies have trained more than 25% of their people on GenAI tools so far, the report shows. These “winning” companies noted the permanence of GenAI and the potential for both enhanced productivity and topline growth.

Overall, 71% of executives said they plan to increase tech investments in 2024, representing an 11-point jump from 2023, and 85% plan to increase their spending on AI and GenAI. Beyond that, 54% of those surveyed expect AI to provide cost savings this year, specifically through productivity gains in operations, customer service and IT.

Organizations that plan to invest more than $50 million in AI and GenAI in 2024 are 1.3 times more likely to see cost savings this year, as well as 1.5 times more likely to achieve more than 10% in cost savings, according to the report.

In addition, 21% spending more than $50 million this year have already trained more than a quarter of their people and plan to invest in systematic upskilling. About 27% of these companies put their CEO in charge of their responsible AI strategy.

“To unlock GenAI’s full potential, executives should deploy it to improve efficiency of everyday tasks, reshape critical functions and invent new business models,” Schweizer said. “Doing so can increase productivity by up to 20%, enhance efficiency and effectiveness by up to 50%, boost revenue and create long-term competitive advantage.”

Companies have cited a lack of skilled talent as a major barrier to GenAI deployment, particularly in programming and data analysis, according to an O’Reilly Media report. Leaders can attract talent by allowing remote work and the freedom to publish.

Employers appear to be willing to pay a premium for skilled AI workers, according to an Amazon Web Services survey. Organizations said they’d pay more across business functions, with salaries rising 43% in sales and marketing, 42% in finance, 37% in legal and compliance areas and 35% in human resources.

As organizations implement AI, jobs roles and in-demand skills are shifting, according to a Dynatrace report. Companies said they’re focusing on upskilling workers to unlock value for the business and bridge the gap for employees.