Healthcare Execs Accelerating Investment in AI, Citing Fear of Disruption

Jan. 7, 2019
Three out of four healthcare executive leaders (77 percent) report that the pace of investment in big data and artificial intelligence (AI) is accelerating at their organizations, in large part due to concerns about disruptive forces and competitors.

Three out of four healthcare executive leaders (77 percent) report that the pace of investment in big data and artificial intelligence (AI) is accelerating at their organizations, in large part due to concerns about disruptive forces and competitors.

A cross-industry survey conducted by NewVantage Partners, a strategic advisory firm, found that, across all enterprises, 92 percent of senior corporate executives report their organizations are increasing their pace of investment in big data and AI, and 62 percent have seen measurable results from their investments.

The aim of the survey is to gauge how big data and AI are accelerating business transformation and the 2019 version of the survey represented executives from nearly 65 companies, with financial services firms making up the majority of respondents. Healthcare respondents include United Health, Aetna, Cigna, CVS Health and Partners Healthcare. The majority of respondents identified as chief data officers, chief analytics officers or chief information officers.

While 92 percent of respondents across all industries confirm that the pace of investment in AI and big data is accelerating, 76 percent of healthcare executive leaders reported an acceleration investment. About the same percentage (78 percent) of healthcare senior C-suite executives reported greater urgency to invest in AI and data analytics, although this indicates a less urgent pace than their financial services counterparts (92 percent report processing at a more urgent pace).

Among respondents across all industries, when asked as to the motivation behind ramping up AI and big data investments, 75 percent cited fear disruption from new entrants, and 88 percent said they feel greater urgency to invest in big data and AI.

The fear of disruption was higher among healthcare executives—79 percent—relative to their financial services colleagues (72 percent cited concern about data-driven disruptors).

When asked to identify the principal driver of big data and AI investment, there was uniform consensus, across all industries. Companies are united in their view that business transformation and greater agility will enable them to operate more competitively–92 percent acknowledged these as the driving factors. Only 5 percent are driven by cost reduction.

In the survey report, NewVantage Partners CEO and founder Randy Bean and NewVantage Partners fellow Thomas H. Davenport, wrote, “Is the glass for data, analytics, and AI in large organizations half empty or half full? While there are still signs of emptiness, over all we see a glass that is half full and filling up slowly. Compared to, say, a decade ago, an impressive number of enterprises are data-driven today.”

However, Bean and Davenport also warn, “We should not fail to recognize that we live in a highly dynamic time when digital companies have with speed and force disrupted longstanding business models and traditional competitors. For this reason, these survey findings may be considered a call to action. In critical respects, one could argue that the glass remains half full—that progress has been slow, and that many companies still lack commitment to data-driven organizational processes and cultures.”

Across all industries, the number of firms investing greater than $500 million in AI and data analytics initiatives has increased significantly—from 12.7 percent in 2018 to 21 percent of firms in 2019. Likewise, the number of firms investing greater than $50 million has increased from 39 percent in 2018 to 55 percent in 2019.

Overall, 96 percent of executives report investing in AI/machine learning, reinforcing the view that investment in AI has become nearly universal. What’s more, 90 percent of executives report investing in cloud computing and 77 percent citing investment in digital technologies. Investment in blockchain technologies has yet to demonstrate momentum, with only 42 percent of executives reporting investing in that technology area.

Though there has been considerable discussion regarding the applicability of Blockchain with healthcare, the number of firms reporting investment in Blockchain was sharply lower among healthcare firms (29 percent) in comparison to financial services firms (45 percent).

Across all industries, executives were asked to identify their 2019 data priorities. With rising attention being paid to issues regarding data protection in the wake of GDPR legislation and well publicized data breeches, it should not come as a surprise that privacy and security were named as universal priorities.

Looking at the results of these investments, 62 percent of respondents across all industries report measurable results from their big data and AI investments, but less than half say they are competing on data and analytics (47 percent), have created a data-driven organization (31 percent), or have forged a data culture (28 percent).

Notably, healthcare firms reported greater success in competing on analytics than their financial services counterparts—57 percent of healthcare firms indicated that they were successful at competing on data and analytics, while only 45 percent of financial services firms reported success.

Cultural challenges remain the biggest obstacle to business adoption, according to the survey. Companies report (77 percent) that business adoption of big data and AI initiatives remains a major challenge. Executives cite multiple factors (organizational alignment, agility, resistance), with 95 percent stemming from cultural challenges (people and process), and only 5 percent relating to technology.

What’s more, the chief data officer role is evolving but ill-defined—48 percent of respondents see the CDO as having primary responsibility for data while 28 percent see no single point of accountability. Among healthcare executives, 43 percent reported there was no single point of accountability for data within their organization.

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