Saturday February 22, 2020

'Identifying the attributes of successful implementations will help organisations figure out how to prioritise their efforts in adopting AI'

Technology Evangelist, Clare Dillon on how AI will shape the future of Ireland’s industry over the coming 5 years

11th February, 2019
Clare Dillon, Technology Evangelist

What's your name?

Clare Dillon

What’s your current job?

Technology Evangelist

How long have you held the position?

While I have worked in Technology Evangelism for over 15 years, it’s been 18 months since I set up my own consultancy business.

Can you describe your daily work routine?

Since I set up my own business, my routine is very varied. I am either off to visit a client, travelling to an event for a speaking gig, or working from home researching and preparing for the previous two! I love the variety – it keeps life very interesting indeed and gives me time to continuously investigate new trends. One of the best things about working for yourself is the ultimate flexibility it gives you.

What is your professional background?

I started my working life as a secondary school teacher teaching maths and science. I had a thing (and still do) about making maths more accessible for girls in school. However, at that time in the mid ‘90s, it was difficult to get a permanent teaching job have two small children who keep me pretty busy. I also enjoy good food, movies and occasionally I still get time for some gaming.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

I have a relatively mild obsession with zombies and post-apocalyptic fiction. It amuses my friends to ask when I’m going to start prepping.

You are speaking at the forthcoming AI and Machine Learning Summit in Croke Park. What is the focus of your talk?

I will be focusing on emerging trends around AI adoption, where organisations are moving beyond “pilot purgatory” and beginning to get real value from their adoption of AI. Identifying the attributes of successful implementations will help organisations figure out how to prioritise their efforts in adopting AI. I’ll also be looking at the limitations and barriers certain enterprises are coming up against, and how to address them. What’s most interesting is that a lot of the conversation has broadened from the AI technologies themselves (e.g. the differences between Recurrent Neural Networks and Generative Adversarial Networks) to discussions about how to build a digital culture and the right capabilities across organisations to take advantage of the massive opportunity AI presents.

How do you think AI will shape the future of Ireland’s industry over the coming 5 years?

The current thinking revolves more around how AI and ML will change how we all work rather than replace roles wholesale. That’s happening at different rates for different roles in different industries. For example, robotics and automation are already delivering significant value in manufacturing, while AI is being used to assess and reduce risk in Financial Services. In the next five years, we’ll start to see accelerated adoption of those scenarios which have been proven to deliver value to enterprise. These are likely to result in increases in productivity. In addition, digitally mature firms will continue to experiment and run pilots, in particular looking at how AI and ML can be used with other tech trends (like IoT or RPA) for even greater gains. I’m sure more exciting startups will also emerge from Ireland making it even easier for firms worldwide to adopt AI.

Organisations that wish to take advantage of the value AI brings will start building more comprehensive, company-wide AI strategies, looking at everything from the underlying strength of their data infrastructure to talent (recruiting and change management for existing roles and responsibilities). Alongside all of this will likely come changes in regulation and governance models that will cause increased focus on areas such as Responsible AI or Explainable AI.

Can you comment on whether you think Ireland’s workforce has the right kind of skillsets to enable the future workforce to deal with the oncoming fifth revolution?

I think it would be fair to say no, simply because there is a global shortage in AI skills and Ireland is not immune to that. Although we have made some strides in increasing the numbers of people with more advanced specialist skills in this area (for example the launch of UL’s masters in AI in January 2018), it turns out there is even a greater emerging need. For AI to be successfully adopted within business, there is a gap in how many AI-savvy business people there are across organisations. For example, HR professionals who understand the benefits (and risk) of using AI for recruitment or business leaders who understand where to prioritise AI investments. These kinds of hybrid skillsets (business + technical) can even be harder to find than specialist technical roles like data scientists or AI programmers.

Ultimately though, most roles will be impacted in one way or another by AI and other emerging digital transformation trends. Change is therefore the one thing we should all be preparing for and cultural challenges are emerging as some of the top limitations to extracting value from AI. Even those of us used to the rate of change in the tech industry are challenged with keeping pace with the increased scope, scale and speed of change in the last number of years. So, if I were to invest in skills to best support AI in Ireland – it would not only be to increase specialist technical skills but to urgently invest in “softer” skills like a discipline of continuous learning, improved collaboration and building resilience to change.

Clare Dillon will be speaking at the AI & Machine Learning Summit in Croke Park on March 6th. For more information on the agenda and speaker line up and to purchase tickets, visit