Written by Alaa Bawab, General Manager, Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group, Middle East and Africa
The world is at a threshold when it comes to technology. And with analyst firm Gartner having recently shared its Top 10 Strategic Predictions for 2023, there are three that particularly stand out. Gartner predicts that from now through 2027, fully virtual workspaces will account for 30% of the investment growth by enterprises in metaverse technologies and will “reimagine” the office experience. It also anticipates a growing consciousness of the environmental impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and an increased appetite by investors for so-called ‘moonshot’ technologies, as organisations embrace the power of data to take giant leaps into the future.
Studies show that AI technologies in the Middle East are on a rapid growth scale with a potential impact predicted to be valued at $320 billion by 2030. The Middle East is expecting an annual growth in the contribution of AI by 20-34% per year, with the UAE expected to see the largest impact of up to 14% by 2030. But how can leaders best take advantage of these tectonic shifts in the technology landscape? And what are the business implications of these technologies in the coming years?
Making AI more sustainable
The past twelve months have marked the moment artificial intelligence went mainstream, as generative AI dazzled consumers worldwide with lifelike text and mysterious artworks. Most recently, the AI chatbot ChatGPT has hit the headlines for its capacity to create complex content and answer questions with conversational responses.
Amid these new capabilities, the Gartner predictions warn that by 2025, without sustainable AI practices, AI will consume more energy than the human workforce, significantly offsetting carbon-zero gains. And with a huge amount of processing power required to build and maintain AI models, the demands placed on infrastructure are ever-increasing. Data centers currently account for up to 1.5% of global energy demand according to the International Energy Agency, with AI workloads a driver behind this.
But the Gartner report also says, “Practices are emerging in order to significantly reduce energy consumption for machine learning.” These practices come in numerous forms, from CO2 offsetting schemes and asset recovery services to liquid cooling technologies in data centers. Smarter software is also helping to reduce power consumption, by shutting off components when they are not being used, for example.
What is certain is that we cannot turn our back on AI technology. We are in the middle of an acceleration in the amount of data available to us, which is beginning to exceed the human capacity to make sense of it. We need AI to derive insights from this data. This will be crucial when it comes to solving many of the ‘big questions’ facing humanity.
Just as AI helped unlock many of the breakthroughs which were crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will also be influential in dealing with the challenges of the future, including climate change. It may well be that AI’s ability to find solutions far outweighs its carbon footprint.
Business leaders are increasingly aware of the value of AI in solving these bigger problems, with 58% of board-level executives planning to invest in AI tools, according to Lenovo’s Data for Humanity report. Most business leaders are hopeful that the insights delivered by AI could be instrumental in tackling challenges such as global warming.
There is no ‘silver bullet’ to make AI more sustainable, but there are steps that can be taken to improve it. Businesses and governments need to take a holistic view of the energy consumed by data centers and combine this with a fresh way of thinking about their environmental impact. Nowadays, the best economic solutions also tend to be the most sustainable, and refreshing inventory, especially older assets, can quickly pay for itself through reduced energy consumption. Business leaders, vendors, partners, and customers need to take an overview of every part of the journey to build a more sustainable future for AI.
The Enterprise Metaverse
The future will see the metaverse reborn and built for work, with Gartner predicting that fully virtual workplaces will account for 30% of enterprise investment growth in metaverse technologies. It also forecasts that, for some forward-thinking organisations, the metaverse may even replace the office.
We are at an early stage in the adoption of metaverse technology, roughly equivalent to the mid-90s in terms of the evolution of the World Wide Web. But it will be work, not play, which drives the broader adoption of metaverse technology, evolving to become the enterprise metaverse.
Some of this technology is already here in embryonic form. Augmented and VR training solutions will be key drivers of the adoption of metaverse technology, acting as ‘job simulators’, like today’s flight simulators. This technology is already in use now and paves the way for the broader adoption of metaverse technology via virtual workplaces and meeting rooms.
With workers beginning to converge in these 3D virtual environments, businesses could expect to see amplified collaboration, boosting productivity, and a leveled-up employee experience. This in turn will help businesses to attract and retain talent, unlock new business capabilities, and improve access to data intelligence for better decision-making.
As the adoption of this technology becomes more widespread, companies will need to invest in physical infrastructure to make new virtual worlds a reality. The metaverse requires the ability to process data rapidly and in real time. This places an increased focus on enhancing network connectivity and reducing latency, where edge computing will play a key role.
In addition, more data centers will be needed to support data transfers and storage as part of metaverse communication. Ahead of this, businesses must feel empowered to adopt technologies that allow them to scale their storage capabilities on demand, preparing them for the pending enterprise metaverse.
Shooting for the moon
‘Moonshot’ speculative investments will become a viable alternative to traditional spending on research and development (R&D), Gartner predicts, with shareholder acceptance of such investments expected to double by 2025. It writes that “Leading enterprises will take advantage of uncertainty or disruption, leveraging new and unknown mindsets, capabilities and skills to capture growth opportunities.”
These investments will be driven by data and innovative thinking around how business functions and IT work together, with Lenovo’s research of board-level executives showing a large appetite for investing in data. Major organisations are prepared to plunge large sums into technologies such as analytics and AI, with leaders planning to invest $3 million in data technologies, and hopeful of equally large returns, anticipating 81% on average. This would amount to a return of $8.5 trillion globally, based on the top 100 listed firms in each country surveyed.
The most proactive users of data dubbed the ‘Data Leaders’, are already reaping the returns of investment in technology, with three-quarters (78%) having increased their revenues in the past 12 months. These pioneers are already highly effective at using data to deal with issues such as improving customer experience, increasing supply chain transparency, and dealing with the global problem of talent shortages.
Metrics delivered by data, along with bold thinking, will be crucial to driving businesses away from conventional thinking around R&D and towards a more innovative future. Despite the anticipated disruption set to come, off the back of years of disruption caused by the pandemic, the Gartner insights show how businesses will begin to “fuse technology capabilities with business strategies to drive improved outcomes and ensure preparedness when dealing with growing uncertainty”. This, it says, will turn uncertainty into opportunity.
A bright future
For technologies like the metaverse and artificial intelligence, the future is bright, as familiarity and adoption by businesses and individuals alike continue to propel them forward. AI and data have the potential to reshape our society for the better, helping to find solutions for the biggest challenges facing humankind.
At this turning point in technology, one thing is clear: business leaders need to be bold and embrace a data-driven future. But to do so, the right infrastructure is needed to enable the speed and capacity required for data to be transferred and stored to meet the requirements of the metaverse and AI technologies.
At the same time, sustainability should not be forgotten, and businesses and governments will need to work together to ensure that fresh innovation is balanced with energy consumption. This will become even more integral in 2023, as new governance such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CRSD) policy rolls nearer.
These predictions offer the opportunity for businesses to learn and grow as the technologies continue to progress, and it’s time for them to take advantage of it. Organisations must look to harness improved automation, AI, analytics and storage capabilities, and practices to make running today’s required workloads more sustainable. By doing so, they can reap benefits not only in revenues but also in talent, efficiency, customer loyalty, and agility, all while meeting sustainability goals. With the right solutions offering the best insights, every business has the potential to take advantage of these new technologies and become a Data Leader.