The first Swiss AI Report is addressing the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and helping companies to orient themselves in the complex area of innovation. For this, Mindfire, a foundation specializing in AI, has joined forces with the think tank W.I.R.E. to assess the AI activities of 92 Swiss companies from a variety of sectors. This involved startups, SMEs, and even IT giants such as Google. In actual fact, AI is already firmly integrated into the day-to-day business of many companies. Stefan Pabst of W.I.R.E states: “Those who take the matter seriously prioritize it and want to thoroughly understand it to be able to fully exploit its potential.” According to Daniela Suter from Mindfire, this is supported by the fact that 80 percent of participating companies have an AI strategy. She comments: “It is important and proper for the subject to be dealt with at a management level.” Furthermore, 71 percent collaborate with research institutes on AI queries. As a world-leading research location, Switzerland provides the ideal conditions for this.
Greater Zurich Area is an AI hotspot
For example, dynamic AI clusters with global reputations have developed around the Swiss AI Lab IDSIA in Lugano and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). The ETH AI Center focuses specifically on sustainability and ethics in the area of AI. According to Daniela Suter, these are aspects where companies could be more strongly positioned in future.
Two of the three AI application examples from the study come from the Greater Zurich Area: the autonomous onboarding solution from the fintech company ti&m from Zurich and the analytical instrument for customer feedback from the Zurich-based startup Caplena for the Swiss retailer Coop. Out of 32 case studies, these were selected by a jury including big names from research such as Thierry Bücheler, the AI strategist at the large IT company Oracle.
Companies optimize their processes with AI
All submitted case studies are exclusively available to the participating companies and aim to promote further exchange within the network. According to Daniela Suter, this is because everyone could learn from each other when it comes to AI questions. Even at this early stage of the technology, there are many parallels. A significant share of the companies use the new technology to optimize processes. As AI recognizes patterns in data sets and learns from them, errors can be minimized and process automation levels can be increased as well. Stefan Pabst states that pragmatism is precisely the right approach. He adds: “The greatest challenges are that sometimes digitization has not yet been completed and data sets are very different. It is best to start with a single corporate sector and create a good basis there.”
Investment in specialists and expertise
Investments are also showing that companies are reading the signs of the times correctly. A third have a dedicated AI budget and another third want to increase AI expenditure by more than 100 percent over the current year. Among other uses, the funds are spent on training existing employees: almost half of the companies invest in AI training. Stefan Pabst views this as one of the most important success factors for AI projects, bringing as many participants as possible along on the journey toward a data-based business.
However, companies are also investing in new specialists. In this regard, the Greater Zurich Area is considered a mecca for recruitment. Rasmus Dahl, Zurich boss of the technology company Meta, confirmed this in a recent interview. According to Dahl, the skills shortage in Switzerland for his highly specialized field is the lowest in the world. He adds: “The skilled workers that we have access to here are world-class.” Meta plans to grow from 200 to 350 employees in Zurich over the next year.
By Yvonne von Hunnius
Full Swiss AI Report 2022