The possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) are top of mind for businesses around the world, but leaders from Europe and Africa (EMEA) are taking the lead on embracing the technology. That’s a top takeaway from the new report “Preparing to Power Up: EMEA Leads the Way to an AI-Driven Future,” a collaboration between Workday and FT Longitude that surveyed 1,410 senior business executives.

More than half (53%) of EMEA CEOs say they are excited to use AI in their organisation—the highest of all the regions that Workday surveyed—and multiple EMEA countries plan to boost their investment in AI over the next five years. Clearly, EMEA business leaders understand that they need to adapt their tools, processes, skills, and capabilities for an AI-complemented future—or risk getting left behind.


EMEA Leads the Way

When it comes to laying the groundwork for AI adoption, EMEA has pulled ahead of other regions—with 56% of EMEA CEOs saying their organisation is prepared for AI adoption, compared with 48% in the Americas and 45% in Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ).

While leaders from every region agree that potential errors are the top risk of AI, just under half (48%) of EMEA CEOs see lack of transparency as one of the main risks. Where does that confidence come from? Likely it stems from Europe’s frontrunner status in global AI policy. As an example, the EU is developing the world’s first comprehensive AI regulation, the EU AI Act.

Among EMEA business leaders, 40% say they worry about the trustworthiness of AI technologies.

In part due to strong regulatory frameworks, EMEA CEOs are less concerned than their counterparts in other countries when it comes to questions of trustworthiness, transparency, and accountability with AI use. As a result, EMEA companies are driving more AI adoption.

Still, EMEA leaders recognise they have room for improvement, namely in enhancing access to quality, usable data.


What’s Holding Progress Back?

Quite simply, AI practice isn’t keeping pace with AI passion. Despite the enthusiasm for AI, 38% of EMEA organisations have yet to begin piloting the technologies. To fully embrace AI, organisations need to operate from a place of accessible, functional data. Many aren’t there yet.

The majority of EMEA organisations (60%) say their data is siloed, which makes it difficult to access usable, real-time insights. Compared with other regions, EMEA’s IT leaders are most likely to say unreliable or unusable data prevents them from achieving their goals.

“We believe in the power of AI to unlock human potential.”

Chandler C. Morse Vice President, Public Policy

And while trust is not as much of a concern for EMEA as other regions, it nonetheless remains an issue. Among EMEA business leaders, 40% say they worry about the trustworthiness of AI technologies.

To overcome AI concerns and foster a culture of innovation, leaders will need to take an iterative approach to change management that involves education, communication, collaboration, and reassurance. And to break through the trust barrier, organisations must foster cultural change by establishing data privacy and ethics and building normalised or standardised data. A good starting point is to launch, and test, small AI projects to ensure that teams can share AI knowledge as they gain experience.

“We believe in the power of AI to unlock human potential,” says Chandler Morse, vice president, corporate affairs, Workday. “But people won’t use technologies they don’t trust. Skills backed by a thoughtful, ethical, responsible implementation of AI that has regulatory safeguards that help facilitate trust is the way forward.”


While Finance and IT Lead, HR Needs to Close the Gap

EMEA finance teams have made more progress toward AI adoption than their counterparts in any other region. Workday data shows that 60% of EMEA finance teams fall somewhere between piloting and maturity in AI adoption—13 and 8 percentage points more than finance teams in the Americas and AJP, respectively.

Of all the regions surveyed, EMEA’s finance leaders are the most likely to say AI will make finance and procurement jobs more rewarding. Of particular interest to these teams is AI’s ability to make processing high-volume, labour-intensive transactions faster with increased precision and accuracy—enabling the finance team to focus on strategic decision support.

Similarly, EMEA’s IT leaders are the most likely to say AI will make it easier to support other business teams—therefore enabling IT teams to deliver more strategic value.

By contrast, EMEA’s HR leaders have the slowest AI adoption rates. But that’s not for lack of interest—44% of HR leaders are excited to use AI, the highest of all regions. HR professionals are also the most likely to say AI will bring new opportunities to leverage skills across the business (43%). But just under half of HR leaders (48%) have yet to start using AI with their team.

EMEA’s HR leaders are well aware of the benefits of adoption—in particular the immediate value that AI-enabled tools could bring to skills management, payroll management, recruiting, onboarding, and resource scheduling and deployment. At the same time, HR leaders also recognise that people skills will remain as important as ever, and that organisations will need to invest in training and upskilling teams to build confidence around AI.

“My hope is that AI allows humans to do what we’re really good at and machines to do some of the things that are more tedious and time-consuming,” says Hari Dorai, SVP, HR operations, PVH Corp.

More Reading