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Cisco’s AI Index: SA keeps up in global AI readiness race

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 28 Nov 2023
Smangele Nkosi, GM of Cisco South Africa.
Smangele Nkosi, GM of Cisco South Africa.

In South Africa, 11% of organisations are considered to be fully prepared to deploy AI-powered technologies, while the global statistic is 14%.

This is according to Cisco’s inaugural AI Readiness Index, based on a survey of over 8 000 private sector business and IT leaders across 30 markets (153 from South Africa).

Smangele Nkosi, GM of Cisco South Africa, says AI readiness has become a top business priority, but it's not a one-dimensional conversation. "IT infrastructure, including networks, compute resources and cyber security need to be assessed, alongside strategy, data governance and company culture, so that leaders and employees are ready to explore the potential of AI.”

The study investigated AI readiness across six categories: strategy, infrastructure, data, governance, talent, and culture, and then categorised the organisational readiness into four levels.

Based on this, Cisco’s AI readiness index looks as follows:

  • Pacesetters (fully prepared): global 14% / South Africa 11%
  • Chasers (moderately prepared): global 34% / South Africa 40%
  • Followers (limited preparedness): global 48% / South Africa 48%
  • Laggards (unprepared): 4% / South Africa 1%
Ciscos' AI Readiness Index: Global vs South Africa.
Ciscos' AI Readiness Index: Global vs South Africa.

When the numbers for pacesetters and chasers are combined, South Africa slightly outperforms its global counterparts, with 51% versus 48%.

Furthermore, if one considers the six sub-categories for preparedness, the findings for South Africa are very much in line with the global averages, with one exception: infrastructure. While globally 17% of organisations consider themselves fully prepared, in South Africa this number is 10%.

Key findings

  • Strategy: 96% of organisations globally have an AI strategy in pace or under development.
  • Infrastructure: In South Africa, infrastructure readiness is at an average level, with just 10% of local organisations categorised as ‘pacesetters’.
  • Governance: 42% of SA organisations have a comprehensive AI policy, while 23% lack awareness of potential biases in their AI data sets.
  • Data: 77% of SA respondents admit their data exists in silos.

Cisco notes that tools like ChatGPT have brought GenAI onto end users’ screens, but the real impact will happen with companies leveraging this foundational technology to build products and services, and deploying AI-powered services to achieve specific outcomes.

Using AI raises new concerns about data privacy and security. The report shows that over half (54%) of South African organisations isn’t fully equipped to detect and prevent cyber threats associated with AI adoption.

Across the six preparedness categories, data has the largest number of SA organisations classified as laggards (10%), and 40% falling into the follower group. The reports' authors note that “a lot of work needs to be done on this front as 77% of respondents admitted that their data exists in silos across the organisation”.

However, Smangele highlights the positives. “The index revealed that companies in South Africa are taking many proactive measures to prepare for an AI-centric future. When it comes to building AI strategies, 96% of organisations are already in the process of developing it.”