Wondering when AI will turn up at your work? Microsoft says look behind you

Research lands weeks after the Copilot company said it was still trying to convince customers of benefits

Microsoft's 2024 Work Trend Index makes grand claims about the benefits of AI, but might make disturbing reading for administrators worrying about shadow IT.

According to the report, 78 percent of workers are bringing their own AI tools, presumably because IT leaders prefer to hold back rather than board the hype train.

Indeed, more than half (59 percent) of leaders are concerned about quantifying the productivity gains of AI technology despite claims from companies such as Microsoft. That said, the report also noted that 79 percent of leaders agreed AI adoption is critical to remaining competitive. However, a cynic might wonder how much FOMO (fear of missing out) plays a part.

Jared Spataro, Microsoft CVP for AI at Work, said: "While leaders feel the pressure to turn individual productivity gains into organizational impact, employees aren't waiting to reap the benefits: 78 percent of AI users are bringing their own AI tools to work."

Spataro also noted that leaders "feel the pressure to show immediate Return on Investment (RoI)" from AI technologies. Considering the investments involved, not least the cost of rolling out Copilot for Microsoft 365, seeing at least a plan that has a pot of gold at the end of the AI rainbow seems reasonable. Even if that pot of gold is filled with the salaries of some employees made redundant by the tech.

The report is a far cry from Spataro's earlier pronouncements on the matter, where Microsoft appeared to be suggesting that customers should temper their expectations and look more to the long term as the company's Copilot product line matures.

At March's Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom 2024 conference, Spataro told attendees: "People are definitely trying to understand, who should I get this for? Is this for everyone in my organization? Is this for a certain segment or population?"

He went on to admit that the $30 price tag for the tech was "substantial", and many customers are still at the proof of concept stage.

Microsoft's report shows that employees are interested in AI technologies in the workplace, but it also highlights the concerns of leaders about signing off on what could be a substantial expense.

Spataro's seeming shift from acknowledging business worries to fueling a feeling of FOMO with the report is a clear indicator that Microsoft would like to see an RoI on its own Copilot spending sooner rather than later. ®

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