AI at Work 2024: A view from the C-suite

For business leaders today, there’s no hotter topic than artificial intelligence (AI).

Executives everywhere are asking themselves — and each other — how AI will transform the products they offer, the ways they work, and the threats they face.

Our new analysis, AI at Work 2024: C-suite perspectives on artificial intelligence, paints a picture of the early days of a new era. We surveyed 125 C-suite leaders across industries, regions, and company sizes to get a sense of their priorities and concerns around AI. With AI’s potential impact often tied to innovation, efficiency, and security, the survey targeted the executive roles typically tasked with steering those efforts: CSOs/CISOs (security), CTOs (innovation), and CIOs (operational efficiency).

These decision-makers expressed a wide range of views about AI — and the risks and opportunities that come with it.

The report reveals that as many executives try to understand the technology and its risks, they must also make critical decisions about how and to what degree AI should be implemented. If they don’t move decisively, they risk getting left behind by competitors and customers.

Here are some highlights from AI at Work 2024.

Execs hold a positive view of AI

Across the board, respondents overwhelmingly see AI as more of a positive force than a negative one. When asked to describe their outlook on AI’s impact on the world, 31% of executives said it was very positive, with another 58% deeming it as positive. In contrast, only 2% reported a negative view of the technology.

Graph indicating executive outlook on AI, Very positive to Very negative

While that positivity spanned all regions, respondents in EMEA expressed the most upbeat sentiment around AI, with 39% of execs there reporting a very positive outlook.

As a technology leader, I see AI as having the potential to have a positive impact. However, we must ensure that AI technology is implemented while keeping security and privacy top of mind.

Few consider themselves AI experts

While C-suite leaders’ outlook on AI may be strong, their understanding of the technology is less so. A plurality (43%) described their grasp of AI as intermediate, while another 37% claimed to have a more advanced handle on the technology. Only 14% assessed themselves as AI experts, the highest option. 

While there is room to learn more about AI, most respondents expressed confidence in their ability to make AI-related decisions: 92% said they were either confident or very confident. CTOs lead the way, with 51% describing themselves as very confident in their AI decisions.

Graph indicating executive understanding of AI, from Expert to Nothing

Execs have a similarly rosy outlook on how well their employees grasp the threats that AI poses. More than two-thirds (67%) said their workforces are either very informed or somewhat informed about such threats. 

Given that AI is not a new concept, it isn't surprising that leaders express high confidence. However, generative AI introduces a new tech stack. In the past, the AI data stack has been more in the backend running its processes. With generative AI–powered product launches, data is moving into your customer-facing production stack, so it's imperative to make your AI security and privacy posture a high priority.

Privacy and security are top concerns

On the topic of AI threats, there’s no shortage of concerns on the minds of C-suite leaders. 

Data privacy leads the pack, with 74% of respondents choosing it from a list of top concerns regarding AI. Security risks closely followed at 71%.

However, those concerns don’t appear to be overly strong. Only 11% of execs said they’re extremely concerned about AI’s potential impact on security at their organisation. Far more respondents (28%) described themselves as moderately concerned, and even more (34%) were only slightly concerned.

And most leaders express some confidence in their companies’ abilities to combat AI threats — such as misinformation, deep fakes, and phishing attacks enhanced by generative AI. More than half (54%) of respondents said their organisations are somewhat prepared to defend against AI-driven attacks, compared with just 17% who described their organisations as either somewhat unprepared or very unprepared.

Leaders must prioritise privacy and security as we adopt next-generation AI technologies. Bad actors are also innovating using AI technologies, and I see this trend continuing and increasing as we gain more understanding of AI's power.

Graph indicating top-prompted concerns about AI

Identity is key to bringing AI on board

Executives also revealed that Identity is more important than ever in the age of AI.

More than three-quarters (79%) of respondents characterised Identity and Access Management (IAM) — ensuring the right people have access to the right resources at the right times — as important or very important when it comes to adopting and integrating artificial intelligence at their respective organizations.

As I look at our AI adoption strategy, I’m driving two tracks: unlocking productivity and innovation for my teams while ensuring secure access controls to AI technologies and prioritising features in our product development that empower our customers to easily and quickly adopt Okta’s AI–powered features.

The future is finally here

For decades, generative AI has been little more than an intriguing but distant concept for most of us. Now it’s finally becoming a reality. Our new analysis provides a glimpse into the thinking of the decision-makers who will bring AI into nearly all aspects of how we live and work — and what they’ll prioritise along the way. 

For more surprising insights and observations about the state of AI, download AI at Work 2024.