SA businesses still in their comfort zone when it comes to AI - expert

Despite pockets of excellence, there is a massive gap among South African businesses between understanding the impact of using technology and actually moving to embrace that technology, according to Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx.

Moreover, many have flagged poor connectivity as a barrier to moving ahead.

"The secret that South African businesses should understand is that technology is not the enemy, but your ally," Goldstuck said at the SAIPA Accounting Indaba in Cape Town on Tuesday.

More than half of businesses he recently surveyed indicated that they are only using basic automation. Most are only at the beginning of being able to start using artificial intelligence (AI).

His survey indicated that while 90% of respondents understood the need to use technology, 99% said they understood the benefit of AI and that they would have to rely on it in future. Yet most seem to prefer to stay in their current comfort zones for the time being.

When asked what is stopping them from using cloud technology, for instance, more than half indicated that poor connectivity was the biggest block, while a third said they find it too complicated.

A third reason often mentioned by respondents was the cost involved.

"So, give people faster connection and they will be able to embrace the future," said Goldstuck.

His research showed that in 2018 only about 1 in 10 businesses in SA were using AI in one form or another. The 2019 survey showed this has not really increased since then. In his view, this is because people are becoming more aware of the hype relating to AI that is being created.

Another hurdle Goldstuck mentioned is the lack of AI skills in the country. He would like to see more investments in developing these kinds of skills.