Masayuki Chatani, Tim Denley and John Lee | 17 February 2021

The 'need for speed' - as COVID-19's impact continues to demonstrate - has never been more profound in today's increasingly complex business environment. And as the scope and pace of change accelerate unabated, the number of businesses pursuing automation and artificial intelligence to enhance competitiveness - and their prospects for survival - is spiralling upward.

We look for 2021 to be the year of AI's unprecedented leap to the mainstream, as businesses everywhere think bigger and bolder, scaling their AI efforts and embracing the inevitable need to compete in an AI-driven future.

Businesses have certainly endured roadblocks and challenges in the automation journey. An AI 'trust gap' has prevailed amid a lack of quality data and an ensuing reluctance to hand critical business decisions over to machines. No one wants to risk 'getting it wrong' with AI. A lack of quality data was cited as a significant barrier to value creation by more than 60 percent of executives we surveyed in 2020 as the pandemic unfolded.1

Insufficient policies and regulations governing appropriate data use have also limited success. AI has the power to revolutionize how work gets done and how decisions get made, but it needs to be deployed responsibly. For AI to be productive and accepted across the enterprise, it must be explainable, transparent and trusted. More than 50 percent of executives we surveyed in 2020 cited a lack of AI ethics guidelines as a barrier to adoption and progress.2

AI adoption is now poised to soar

While barriers to AI success have not been eradicated, COVID-19s massive impact has unexpectedly catapulted intelligent automation and AI to the fore. The pandemic has revealed the importance of speed in a world where 'business as usual' has rapidly turned to 'business as unusual.' The ensuing disruption and increase in remote working is propelling AI implementation to new heights.

Intelligent automation and AI are now poised to exert a game-changing impact on every aspect of 21st century enterprises - revolutionizing the future of work, data use, organizational efficiency, customer and employee experiences, risk management and more.

Forrester Research's report Make AI Your Silver Lining In 2021 notes that while AI adoption grew by 15 percent through 2020, “maturity is rising as firms move past small, incremental solutions.” The stage is now set for unprecedented growth in AI adoption, with an expected 35 percent of companies positioned to “double-down on workplace AI” this year, while one in four are expected to “stretch AI to new frontiers” that include holographic meetings for remote workers, and on-demand personalized manufacturing.

KPMG firms are helping more clients understand and unlock the immense power of automation and AI with our ground-breaking KPMG Ignite platform. Its unique capabilities are helping clients capitalize on data insights around the world in order to enhance, accelerate and automate decisions and processes that drive growth, manage risk and optimize cost efficiency. The KPMG Ignite platform combines machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing, applying them to structured and unstructured data, voice and images.

Collapsing timelines and costs

KPMG Ignite, our recently patented AI platform, is helping clients swiftly respond to potential disruption and emergencies such as COVID-19 and beyond via intelligent automation and sophisticated data and analytics tools. Worth noting is a recent case involving a major global banking client facing an unprecedented emergency during the launch of the US government's pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program supporting small business owners' employee payrolls. Banks had precious little time to prepare for the deluge of applications that inundated them.

Fortunately, our banking client was prepared. Within hours, the bank launched an automated system to address an influx of loan applications numbering tens upon tens of thousands. We deployed KPMG Ignite to identify, verify and manage approval of incoming loan documents in a fraction of the time that bank employees would have needed to manually complete the mammoth task.

KPMG Ignite features a unique 'microservices' architecture that is 'layered, modular and composable,' unlocking for users an unmatched level of flexibility that we describe as 'hyper agility'. And this is a critical advantage in today's fast-paced environment. The best way for an organization to adapt to marketplace complexity and volatility is to be nimble, innovative, reactive and flexible - in essence, hyper agile.

KPMG Ignite is designed to take the mystery and doubts out of AI deployment. We use a multidisciplinary approach that essentially fast-tracks connections between a business's technology experts, its users and the specific AI tools needed to solve problems and enhance processes. KPMG Ignite's modular architecture effectively collapses the traditional timelines and costs needed to complete business processes and generate informed decisions.

Major US banks grappling with the impact of amendments to the US Volcker Rule governing securities trading have also turned to our unique platform. KPMG Ignite collapsed to a mere 16 weeks the implementation of a complex solution that would have required an estimated 12 months of work involving a team of 80 lawyers to complete.

Also noteworthy is technology giant Hewlett-Packard's launch of a multi-phased initiative deploying AI and machine learning to automate its end-to-end accounts-payable invoicing process. The pandemic has accelerated HP's timelines and it now aims to deploy and scale the technology, and train employees on the solution, within the coming months to fast-track processing of paper invoices numbering 500,000 or more annually. “COVID-19 has created an opportunity to re-think where and what we invest in, always keeping the bigger picture in mind,” says Bobby Jutley, Director RPA - Simplify Finance Innovation, HP.

KPMG Ignite's architecture and microservices allow us to match the constantly changing nature of the market and choose from the platform's deep portfolio of flexible tools, or micro-components, and instantly apply them to an unlimited range of needs. KPMG Ignite's ability to support hyper agility is enhanced by its low-code approach: By combining the capabilities of data scientists, AI engineers and robust automation tools, we enable employees themselves to deliver sophisticated, enterprise-class applications. This combination taps into KPMG's deep business expertise, instantly connecting macro-level technology components to unlock Ignite's precise micro-level solutions.

Regulators set their sights on AI

Rapid AI adoption, while promising, is also highlighting the risks involved and as the uptake trend accelerates, businesses and governments are playing catch-up to devise standards and regulations that enhance trust, protect consumers' digital rights and foster responsible growth. Look for these key risk themes to be in sharp focus this year:

  • AI's precision and accuracy: To bridge the gap between AI's potential and risks, stakeholders across the AI landscape are calling for increased regulation and guidance on how best to govern the technologies and manage the fallout when decisions or outcomes go wrong. As governments zero in on AI's potential impacts and risks, regulations and guidelines will need to provide a broad new framework that effectively fosters trust in and reliance on automation. 
  • Appropriate use of consumer data and data privacy: As AI enters the mainstream, a focus on privacy and the responsible use of customer data will be an important component of new regulation. Already, concern about how personal data is used has prompted both global and local regulations, such as GDPR in the EU and the California Privacy Act in the US.
  • Discrimination and bias in decision making: Use cases for AI are increasingly based on sensitive personal information, fuelling public concern about how unfair societal bias, developer bias or model bias could impact decisions and ultimately lead to consumer discrimination. Proactive businesses and governments are evaluating how to ensure that AI-based decisions and results are not inadvertently skewed or biased.

We will also see blockchain and AI platforms integrating more deeply to enhance data reliability and results. Blockchain for data provenance will heighten data trust, integrity and usage tracking. Anchoring data to a blockchain to prove its authenticity has seen limited uptake to date but look for it to rise in 2021 as companies face increasing pressure from consumers and regulators to prove data's reliability and compliance.

In conclusion, AI and automation are poised to play a critical role in the development of new business models for the 21st century and we expect automation and AI to be in the spotlight as never before this year. There is no time to lose on the inevitable need for businesses to pursue full-scale AI innovation - or risk being left behind as fast-evolving competitors and bold new players rewrite the rules for success.

Footnotes:

1 home.kpmg/enterprisereboot
2 Ibid.

Throughout this website, “we”, “KPMG”, “us” and “our” refers to the global organization or to one or more of the member firms of KPMG International Limited (“KPMG International”), each of which is a separate legal entity.