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Technology, Media & Telecommunications

AI for tech, media and telecom in 2021: top priorities, benefits and challenges

Tech, media and telecom (TMT) companies are increasingly deploying artificial intelligence (AI) that can sense the environment, think, learn and take action in response. 

Almost one-quarter of TMT companies qualify as AI leaders in our survey, with processes fully enabled by widespread AI adoption. That’s roughly the same as the overall sample. Within the sector, tech companies are using the most AI and telecom companies the least. Yet 76% of telecom respondents (along with 93% of technology respondents and 87% of media respondents) say that AI will become a mainstream technology in their companies in 2021.

Bar chart titled
How far along tech, media and telecom companies are with AI
All industries
Technology
Media
Telecom
Processes fully enabled by AI with widespread adoption
%
%
%
%
Limited use cases
%
%
%
%
A few promising proofs of concept; looking to scale
%
%
%
%
Tested a few proofs of concept with limited success
%
%
%
%
Not using AI currently but looking into it
%
%
%
%
Q: To what extent is your company looking to integrate AI technologies into its operations? Source: PwC AI Predictions 2021. Bases: 1,032; 100; 38; 39

TMT companies are doubling down on AI because the business benefits are already so significant. Their priorities going forward show that they intend to take full advantage of AI’s potential, though many have significant challenges to overcome.

Top AI goals for TMT: customer experience and more

Tech and media companies (like the overall sample) are first and foremost aiming to use AI to operate more efficiently and/or increase efficiency. But many tech and media companies are also pursuing revenue growth, product innovation and a superior customer experience (CX) through AI. PwC AI specialists working with technology and media companies report that AI models for dynamic pricing and for product recommendations are especially advanced, while many media companies are also using AI for special effects in audio and visual productions. Telecom stands apart for its emphasis on AI for a better customer experience. Many telecoms are using AI for network modeling and pricing optimization.

Bar chart titled
Top AI goals for tech, media and telecom companies
All industries
Technology
Media
Telecom
Efficiency/productivity
%
%
%
%
Innovate products/services
%
%
%
%
Grow revenue
%
%
%
%
Create better CX
%
%
%
%
Cost savings
%
%
%
%
Improve internal decision-making
%
%
%
%
Employee training/upskilling
%
%
%
%
Reduce risks
%
%
%
%
Improve talent retention/recruitment
%
%
%
%
Q: What are the primary goals of your company’s AI strategy? Source: PwC AI Predictions 2021. Bases: 1,032; 100; 38; 39

A look at where TMT companies are already seeing benefits from AI helps explain these priorities and demonstrates how quickly AI is maturing as a tool for the business. 

  • 74% of tech, 61% media and 49% telecom companies (compared to 67% of the total sample) say that their AI investments are currently providing benefits for the customer experience. 

  • 59% of tech, 45% of media and 41% of telecom companies (compared to 53% of the overall sample) are already seeing benefits from AI in product and service innovation. 

  • 55% of tech, 42% of media and 38% of telecom companies (compared to 49% of the overall sample) report current benefits to revenue growth from AI initiatives. 

Many of these benefits come from AI’s ability to identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities, “game out” go-to-market strategies, create simulation models for dynamic demand forecasts and automate as well as customize the digital customer experience.

The to-do list: fortifying AI

The top AI challenges that TMT companies are prioritizing this year fall into four categories:

  • Data: developing company-wide AI models and datasets as well as standardizing, labeling and cleansing that data for AI use. Media companies are particularly likely to say they are currently prioritizing data challenges.

  • Risk: making AI responsible and trustworthy, with appropriate governance. This is critical for all companies, but a special concern for technology companies, likely because they have already deployed so much AI.

  • Operationalization: implementing and maintaining AI, and measuring ROI. Tech companies are more likely to prioritize this area. 

  • Workforce: recruiting scarce AI talent and upskilling current workers to use these new tools — a challenge for all companies, but for telecom respondents in particular.
Bar chart titled
Top AI challenges faced by tech, media and telecom companies
All industries
Technology
Media
Telecom
AI models and data sets for use across the company
%
%
%
%
Training current employees to work with AI
%
%
%
%
Making AI responsible and trustworthy
%
%
%
%
Measuring AI’s ROI
%
%
%
%
Recruiting workers already trained to work with AI
%
%
%
%
Q: What AI-related challenges are the top priorities for your company in 2021? Source: PwC AI Predictions 2021. Bases: 1,032; 100; 38; 39

TMT companies are making progress on some of these challenges: 70% of tech companies, 47% of media companies and 44% of telecom companies (compared to 59% of the overall sample) have developed a workforce plan that identifies the new roles and skills needed as a result of AI. There’s also room for growth. For example:

  • Only 46% of technology, 29% of media and 28% of telecoms companies (compared to 46% of the overall sample) have implemented upskilling initiatives that include AI. 

  • Only 44% of technology, 45% of media and 18% of telecom companies (compared to 38% of the overall sample) report fully addressing risks and adding necessary controls related to AI data. 

  • Only 43% of technology, 26% of media and 23% of telecoms (compared to 33% of overall sample) report fully addressing possible gaps in AI governance.

Top takeaways

  • Take advantage of the entirety of AI. TMT companies’ use of AI is increasingly moving from the back office to the business, helping accelerate their cloud journey and front-office transformations. AI is supporting the digital consumer experience, dynamic scenario planning to forecast demand and new tools for marketing in a post-cookie, post IDFA world.

  • Operationalize AI — at scale. To overcome operational challenges, such as scaling up AI, allocating resources wisely and updating governance, many TMT companies would benefit from a three-part reorganization: one that includes a new operating model, a new approach to technology and new ways of working. Measuring ROI may also require new metrics, since benefits may be indirect — a better decision made or a key employee’s time saved.

  • Reduce the new, AI-related risks. Many TMT companies have not yet fully updated governance, data policies or cybersecurity to enable secure, reliable, responsible AI that inspires trust. Many may also need to analyze and minimize AI bias, since without care, AI models might discriminate against groups of people.
PwC Telecommunications, Media and Technology

PwC Telecommunications, Media and Technology

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Anand Rao

Global AI Lead; US Innovation Lead, Emerging Technology Group, Boston, PwC US

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