Wednesday 24 Apr 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on February 12, 2024 - February 18, 2024

Productivity with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) will be a major trend in the coming year as industries see the amount of work being created exceeding the number of people able to do the job.

Corey Sanders, corporate vice-president of Microsoft Cloud for Industry, tells Digital Edge that AI presents an opportunity for workers to focus on their tasks and be more productive.

According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index 2023, some 62% of Malaysians are worried that AI will replace their jobs. However, 84% said they would delegate as much work as possible to AI to reduce their workload.

“The ability to bring productivity to every facet of work, whether it is things like email, sales, across manufacturing lines or construction efforts, productivity is possible to improve with AI in pretty much every line of work. I think Malaysia is an even more opportune location than other places in the world for that impact,” says Sanders.

“Customers and individuals in general are beginning to understand AI more and more every day, and our focus is to empower individuals and corporations to do more. AI is becoming a component of most, if not all, applications and people are seeing it in their daily life.”

Microsoft 365, a product family of productivity software and collaboration and cloud-based services, and GitHub, a software development and version control platform and cloud-based service, allow developers to store and manage their software code. These are significant tools that allow the Copilot experience and the companies’ customers have experienced a massive improvement in productivity, says Sanders.

Microsoft unveiled new products at the Microsoft Ignite event in mid-November last year, focusing on trying to get AI into smaller businesses and more organisations, in addition to enabling the technology in larger companies. The cloud is one way to democratise AI as it has the ability to build and deploy applications within hours, says Sanders.

“It doesn’t matter how big you are. As a company, you can benefit. But it will likely take time to be able to develop in smaller organisations,” he adds.

“This is where, when we look at opportunities, we look at skilling and enabling country-based skilling enhancements to train the broader population on these technologies, trends and solutions. I think a big area of focus is that we have to be able to try and push a more democratised solution.”

Talent will be the primary focus

Having the right understanding and skills to manage AI tools will be critical in the coming year. Sanders says while the AI revolution is exciting, it is a big change to what the current user experience is and how data is used.

This is why Microsoft is focused on enabling skilling at a country level. “Skilling and skill set development will be a big challenge, like any other technological trend,” he says.

Data scientist continues to be one of the hottest new jobs in this landscape because of AI development, and AI-prompt and developer experience will be critical factors. Sanders emphasises that data will drive all of the AI experiences.

“Being able to deliver data in a unified way [will be important] and Microsoft Fabric is geared towards that, which is going to take data experts [to operate]. Data engineers and data scientists will continue to be very sought after by corporations, perhaps even more.”

Microsoft Fabric is an all-in-one analytics solution for enterprises that covers everything from data movement to data science, real-time analytics and business intelligence.

AI ethics to be front and centre

Security and a focus on responsible AI to make sure companies secure their data and solutions are important and critical issues moving forward. Sanders says larger organisations already have more resources built in to support that but small organisations may not.

This is where the company focuses on its security product lines to be able to deliver easy-to-use security solutions for small and medium corporations. “Depending on the company, sovereignty may be an important area of focus. Certainly, government-based companies would have concerns or questions about data sovereignty, using the AI model and how that data is used as part of the AI model,” he says.

“This is where we try to be clear, from an AI perspective, that customer data is customer data and we don’t use it to train large foundation models. We focus on solutions to enable sovereignty and residency of data.”

A key aspect for organisations is about building the right principles and governance policy around this, making sure they understand what they are building and why they are building it. Sanders says the company shares with customers how it puts in place governance policies that they can use or borrow to build their own, including things like safety and inclusiveness.

“The organisations will then be able to apply these principles and policies when testing or building an AI solution. And it meets their expectations. That’s when it is truly inclusive,” he says.

“They also need good auditing and monitoring measures to make sure that once the solution is live, they are able to ensure it continues to live up to their expectations and requirements.

“In the next six months, I think we will see a massive outpouring of new solutions in the market that are built on Microsoft, that are not necessarily built by Microsoft.”

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