Companies are actively harnessing the AI ecosystem of the Greater Zurich Area

In the field of artificial intelligence, there are many Swiss companies collaborating with research institutes that are renowned for their work in this sector. Zurich is an important hub for this. The first Swiss AI Report shows that this topic has become a priority for the economy.

Daniela Suter from Mindfire sees AI strategically located at management level.
Daniela Suter from Mindfire sees AI strategically located at management level. Image credit: Mindfire

The first Swiss AI Report is addressing the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and helping companies to orient themselves in the complex area of innovation. For this, Mindfire, a foundation specializing in AI, has joined forces with the think tank W.I.R.E. to assess the AI activities of 92 Swiss companies from a variety of sectors. This involved startups, SMEs, and even IT giants such as Google. In actual fact, AI is already firmly integrated into the day-to-day business of many companies. Stefan Pabst of W.I.R.E states: “Those who take the matter seriously prioritize it and want to thoroughly understand it to be able to fully exploit its potential.” According to Daniela Suter from Mindfire, this is supported by the fact that 80 percent of participating companies have an AI strategy. She comments: “It is important and proper for the subject to be dealt with at a management level.” Furthermore, 71 percent collaborate with research institutes on AI queries. As a world-leading research location, Switzerland provides the ideal conditions for this.

Greater Zurich Area is an AI hotspot

For example, dynamic AI clusters with global reputations have developed around the Swiss AI Lab IDSIA in Lugano and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). The ETH AI Center focuses specifically on sustainability and ethics in the area of AI. According to Daniela Suter, these are aspects where companies could be more strongly positioned in future.

Two of the three AI application examples from the study come from the Greater Zurich Area: the autonomous onboarding solution from the fintech company ti&m from Zurich and the analytical instrument for customer feedback from the Zurich-based startup Caplena for the Swiss retailer Coop. Out of 32 case studies, these were selected by a jury including big names from research such as Thierry Bücheler, the AI strategist at the large IT company Oracle.

Companies optimize their processes with AI

All submitted case studies are exclusively available to the participating companies and aim to promote further exchange within the network. According to Daniela Suter, this is because everyone could learn from each other when it comes to AI questions. Even at this early stage of the technology, there are many parallels. A significant share of the companies use the new technology to optimize processes. As AI recognizes patterns in data sets and learns from them, errors can be minimized and process automation levels can be increased as well. Stefan Pabst states that pragmatism is precisely the right approach. He adds: “The greatest challenges are that sometimes digitization has not yet been completed and data sets are very different. It is best to start with a single corporate sector and create a good basis there.”

Investment in specialists and expertise

Investments are also showing that companies are reading the signs of the times correctly. A third have a dedicated AI budget and another third want to increase AI expenditure by more than 100 percent over the current year. Among other uses, the funds are spent on training existing employees: almost half of the companies invest in AI training. Stefan Pabst views this as one of the most important success factors for AI projects, bringing as many participants as possible along on the journey toward a data-based business.

However, companies are also investing in new specialists. In this regard, the Greater Zurich Area is considered a mecca for recruitment. Rasmus Dahl, Zurich boss of the technology company Meta, confirmed this in a recent interview. According to Dahl, the skills shortage in Switzerland for his highly specialized field is the lowest in the world. He adds: “The skilled workers that we have access to here are world-class.” Meta plans to grow from 200 to 350 employees in Zurich over the next year.

By Yvonne von Hunnius

AiCon, the festival for AI innovations:

The Swiss AI Report was presented in detail at AiCon, the festival for AI innovations. Guests from politics, economics, research, and society were invited to this event at the Seedamm Plaza hotel in Pfäffikon in Schwyz on 7 and 8 June 2022. AiCon is being hosted by the cantons of Schwyz and Zurich, companies such as IBM, OC Oerlikon, Swisscom, and PwC Schweiz, and the Mindfire Foundation.

Facts from the first Swiss AI Report

Basis: 92 Swiss companies from various industries and of different sizes

  • 80 percent have an AI strategy
  • 71 percent use synergies with universities
  • 46 percent offer AI training programmes for employees
  • 35 percent build AI solutions in-house
  • 32 percent plan to increase their AI budget by more than 100 percent in 2022

This success story was first published by Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA).

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