INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Is Hong Kong ready to embrace AI?

Its lack of investments in an AI-enabled workforce and analytics infrastructure is weighing on its ambitions.

Whilst 40% of organisations in Hong Kong have already embarked on their artificial intelligence (AI) journeys to increase their competitiveness by 2.6 times in 2021, a study from Microsoft and IDC Asia Pacific found that Hong Kong is still not ready for AI due to its lack of investments in skills, strategies and analytics infrastructure to develop actionable insights.

The study, which surveyed 100 business management and 101 workers in Hong Kong, found that in order for businesses to move ahead on their AI ambitions, they must create the right organisational culture.

“Organisations’ management should make AI a core part of their strategy and develop a learning agility culture. They have to continuously invest in this transformative technology for the long-term success, sometimes without immediate returns,” Victor Lim, vice president of customer research and consulting operations at IDC Asia Pacific, said in a statement.

The study showed that a significant proportion of business leaders and a majority of workers surveyed believed that cultural traits that support AI journeys, such as risk-taking, proactive innovation, as well as cross-function partnerships amongst teams, are not pervasive today. “Overall, workers in Hong Kong are more skeptical than the management about the cultural readiness of their organisations,” added Lim.

By 2021, AI is expected to allow the rate of innovation and employee productivity improvements in Hong Kong to more than double, according to business leaders in Hong Kong.

“Management level must now embrace a new culture, where innovation and continuous learning are core components of the organisational culture. It sets the stage for agility, adaptability and growth,” Cally Chan, general manager of Microsoft Hong Kong and Macau, added.

For the organisations that have implemented AI initiatives, the top five business drivers to adopt the technology were found to be higher margins (30%), competitiveness (28%), accelerated innovation (13%), more productive employees (13%) and business intelligence (8%).

The study also found that Hong Kong business leaders and workers hold positive viewpoints about the AI’s impact on the future of jobs, with more than half or 58% of business leaders and 68% of workers claiming that AI will either help to do their existing jobs better or reduce repetitive tasks.

“When it comes to augmentation of jobs, workers are more optimistic as 41% of them believe AI will help them to do their jobs better, and 27% agree that AI will reduce repetitive routine tasks,” said Lim.

According to the study, 87% of businesses prioritise skilling and reskilling of workers in the future, with plans to invest as much, or even more, in human capital than in new technology.

“Even so, 73% of business leaders have yet to implement plans to help their employees’ to acquire the right skills, which is worrying in today’s context. They must have the urgency to support the fundamental shift in training workers for the future,” Chan highlighted. “However, building an AI-ready workforce does not necessarily mean an acute need for technological skills.”

The top three future skills required by management-level respondents in Hong Kong include adaptability and continuous learning mindset, digital skills, and analytical skills. The demand for these skills is higher than the existing supply for the first two identified skills.

The study also uncovered that management-level respondents value soft skills more than workers expect. The biggest skills gaps identified were in digital skills, with an 11-point difference between business leaders and workers, adaptability and continuous learning (9-point difference), and analytical skills (6-point difference). 

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