Skills shortage is stopping many Asian companies from embracing A.I., study shows

  • Artificial intelligence is predicted to speed up innovation in Asia Pacific over the next few years — but less than half of the companies today are using the technology, according to a report from Microsoft and International Data Corporation.
  • While most decision-makers polled agree AI is important in order for them to remain competitive, only 41 percent of the companies in the region have adopted the tech, the report said.
  • One of the main hindrances stopping is skill shortages, according to Ralph Haupter, president of Microsoft Asia.
Robot 'Pepper' communicates with journalists and guests in the exhibition 'Out of Office': When robots and AI work for us' at a press conference in the Museum der Arbeit.
Christian Charisius | picture alliance | Getty Images
Robot 'Pepper' communicates with journalists and guests in the exhibition 'Out of Office': When robots and AI work for us' at a press conference in the Museum der Arbeit.

Artificial intelligence is predicted to speed up innovation in Asia Pacific over the next few years but less than half of the companies today are using the technology, according to a report from Microsoft and International Data Corporation.

While most decision-makers polled agree AI is important in order for them to remain competitive, only 41 percent of the companies in the region have adopted the tech, the report said.

One of the main obstacles preventing companies from readily embracing AI is skills shortages, according to Ralph Haupter, president of Microsoft Asia.

"I think at this stage, it's skills shortage. And, really, getting the first step done," he told CNBC on Wednesday.

Shifting perceptions

The report pointed out that while a majority of companies said they were willing to invest and retrain workers, many lacked time and an understanding of where to start. Some respondents also said there were no suitable training programs for them to take.

Consulting firm McKinsey previously said that automation would spur demand for advanced technological skills as well as higher cognitive skills — such as critical thinking, creativity and complex information processing, while demand for physical and manual skills would decline.

Still, Haupter said, the perception of AI as a threat to jobs is changing to curiosity about the technology.

"People are now actually understanding that AI will be a way to augment the jobs and enrich the experience and take out non-productive stuff. I think we're on a very good path on AI making huge impact to society," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Asia Pacific 'not ready'

Microsoft and IDC surveyed business leaders and workers in 15 Asia Pacific countries for the "Future Ready Business: Assessing Asia's Growth Potential Through AI" report.

Innovation, competitiveness, customer engagement, higher margins and employee productivity were some of the reasons given by companies for adopting AI.

"Asia Pacific is not ready yet for AI," Victor Lim, vice president for consulting operations at IDC Asia Pacific, said in a statement. He added that businesses have to continuously invest in the technology, sometimes without immediate returns.

"There is an urgent need for talents and tools to develop, deploy and monitor AI models, along with the availability of a robust data infrastructure with the adequate governance," Lim said.

For its part, China has embarked on an aggressive push to dominate the AI space through both public and private investments into the technology. Beijing aims to be the leader in AI innovation by 2030.

"I think there's a lot of engineering capacity and skills in China," Haupter said, adding that some of Microsoft's major AI breakthroughs on cognitive services, object and speech recognition came from the company's research and development team in the country.