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Executives in companies around the world are increasingly looking to artificial intelligence to create new sources of business value. This is especially true for leading adopters of AI — those that have invested in AI initiatives and seen impressive results. This small group of companies is doubling down on AI investments, building competencies, and working to take AI to scale. The opportunities and challenges these AI Pioneers face are the focus of the 2018 MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Artificial Intelligence Global Executive Study and Research Report.

Continuing last year’s analytical approach, our latest research combines a global survey of 3,076 business executives and 36 in-depth interviews with business executives. We classified the organizations surveyed into four groups based on respondents’ responses to questions about their levels of AI adoption and AI understanding. Pioneers are enterprises that have extensive understanding of AI tools and concepts and significant levels of AI adoption; Investigators understand AI but have limited adoption; Experimenters have adopted AI but with limited understanding of it, and Passives have limited adoption and understanding of AI.

This report highlights four major patterns in the survey and interview data:

  1. Pioneers are deepening their commitments to AI. Is AI really taking off in business? In one respect, the percentage of Pioneers among survey respondents remained essentially the same as last year, at just under one-fifth of those polled. Yet the level of commitment to AI within the Pioneer group is striking: Fully 88% of Pioneers invested more in AI than in the previous year — in contrast to just 62% of Experimenters and Investigators. Pioneers continue to push forward.
  2. Pioneers are eager to scale AI throughout their enterprise. Typically, an organization that gained early success with AI did so because some AI-knowledgeable managers within a business unit spotted a problem that could be solved more effectively with, for example, natural language processing. Attacking such targets in isolation, they came up with impressive solutions. However, these point solutions left enterprises with no greater systemic capabilities than they had before.
About the Authors:

Sam Ransbotham is an associate professor in the information systems department at the Carroll School of Business at Boston College, as well as guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Artificial Intelligence Big Ideas Initiative. He can be reached on Twitter @ransbotham.

Philipp Gerbert is a senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group’s Munich office. He is BCG’s global topic leader for digital strategy and a BCG Henderson Institute Fellow for the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Business. He can be reached at gerbert.philipp@bcg.com.

Martin Reeves is a senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group and the director of the BCG Henderson Institute, which brings ideas and inspiration to forward-looking leaders.

David Kiron is the executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review, which brings ideas from the world of thinkers to the executives and managers who use them.

Michael Spira is a project leader in The Boston Consulting Group’s Munich office. He is also a BCG Henderson Institute ambassador exploring the impact of AI on business and a core member of BCG’s Energy practice.


Carolyn Ann Geason, Julia Kirby, and Allison Ryder


Peter Batt, IT undersecretary, German Federal Ministry of the Interior

Inderpal Bhandari, global chief data officer, IBM

Bill Braun, CIO, Chevron

Margery Connor, Chevron fellow, Modeling and Analytics Center of Excellence, Chevron

Tanya Cooper, group productivity manager, John Lewis plc

Louis Culot, general manager, Oncology Informatics and Genomics, Philips

Michael Dargan, head, group technology, UBS

Tassilo Festetics, vice president of global solutions, Anheuser-Busch InBev

Garry Fingland, former CIO, BUPA

Andy Fitze, cofounder, SwissCognitive

Britta Fuenfstueck, executive committee member, Clariant

Gemma Garriga, global head of AI and advanced business analytics, Allianz

Ibrahim Gokcen, chief digital officer, Maersk

Christian Guttmann, executive director, Nordic Artificial Intelligence Institute

Lu Hao, chief innovation officer, YITU Technology

Andrew Jacobus, vice president, insights and data science, Virgin Pulse

Theresa Johnson, product manager, Airbnb

Linda Jojo, chief digital officer, United Airlines

David Knibbe, CEO, Netherlands, Nationale-Nederlanden Group

Gorkem Koseoglu, global head of robotics and artificial intelligence, ING

Philippe Mazas, chief information officer, Mundipharma

Matt McNeill, customer engineering director, Google Cloud, UK and Ireland

Marion Mesnage, head of research, innovation, and ventures, Amadeus IT Group

Raphael Micha, head of corporate strategy development, Bosch

Daniel Aubert Miñón, technology and operations director, Santander Global Corporate Banking

Jonathan Moore, global head of client and transaction services, global trade and receivables finance, HSBC

Patrick Naegeli, director, technology and innovation, land, Babcock International Group

Clark Otley, MD, medical director, Department of Business Development, Mayo Clinic

Steve Penver, head of data and analytics, Babcock International Group

Louis Roy, president, OPTEL Group

Harald Rudolph, head of Daimler strategy, Daimler

Scott Ryan, director, data science, Virgin Pulse

Julie Schiffman, vice president, business analytics, Pfizer

Bonny Simi, president, JetBlue Technology Ventures

Joseph Sirosh, CTO of AI, WW Commercial Business, Microsoft

Yufeng Zhang, vice president of global business, Horizon Robotics

To cite this report, please use:

S. Ransbotham, P. Gerbert, M. Reeves, D. Kiron, and M. Spira, “Artificial Intelligence in Business Gets Real,” MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group, September 2018.

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1. See, for example, A. Smith and J. Anderson, “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 6, 2014, www.pewinternet.org.

2. “Allianz Capital Markets Day: Renewal Agenda — Bringing Skills to Scale,” Allianz, Nov. 24, 2015, www.allianz.com.

3. S. Ransbotham, D. Kiron, P. Gerbert, and M. Reeves, “Reshaping Business With Artificial Intelligence,” MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group, September 2017, www.sloanreview.mit.edu.

4. The insurance industry has other Pioneers, too, that see AI as a critical element in the digital transformation of their businesses. In last year’s report, we featured the story of Ping An Insurance, the second largest insurer in China. See Ransbotham, “Reshaping Business With Artificial Intelligence.”

i. P. Gerbert, M. Reeves, S. Ransbotham, D. Kiron, and M. Spira, “Global Competition With AI in Business: How China Differs,” MIT Sloan Management Review, July 24, 2018, www.sloanreview.mit.edu.

4 Comments On: Artificial Intelligence in Business Gets Real

  • Lovely Sharma | March 13, 2019

    Artificial intelligence is proving a turnkey in 2019. On getting merged with the marketing skill sets and digital experiences, the marketers are turning into a crucial role. While incorporating their skill sets with AI apps and software, their profile yields hundreds of leads via data analytics along with the customer satisfaction.

  • Vinod Saratchandran | April 15, 2019

    “Infrastructure capabilities needed to implement AI is coming together at a faster rate than expected. Soon, AI will be an integral part of everything that we do and eventually take over most of the activities that require human ability today. Just like every other transformative idea, AI is a double-edged sword that can be used for the good of mankind or for destructive purposes. It is very important that we aim at regulating AI and start working on new social contracts as machines will start producing everything that we need to live our day-to-day life.”

    Varghese Samuel, CEO, Fingent

  • James Burrel | May 14, 2019

    Artificial intelligence is going to rock in the near future. Probably, there would be more new tech giants we’re going to see in the upcoming years. The AI will soon penetrate in our daily lives also. People will be more AI prone.

  • Channaveer Patil | October 8, 2019

    AI is a beast…. one has to understand the the power and limits of it. Identifying right use cases is the key.

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