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A third of regional finance leaders are already testing generative AI solutions

One in three organisations in Central Europe already has direct experience of generative AI, and only four per cent of companies are passively waiting for competitors to take the first step. Three in four finance executives in the region (73%) believe AI is important to their company's strategy. According to Deloitte's latest CFO survey, half of the CFOs surveyed expect cost reductions from the implementation of AI.

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Deloitte Central Europe's latest CFO survey, Getting ready for the GenAI journey?, captures the views of nearly 500 CFOs representing organisations in 15 Central European markets on the key benefits and challenges of implementing generative AI. The most accurate gauge of CFO opinion in the region, the survey also looks at the economic and business aspects and the growth prospects of companies, while the Financial Operations supplement provides insights into how finance departments are currently operating.

The vast majority of survey respondents (73%) believe that overall, generative AI is important to their business strategy. One-fifth (22%) of CFOs in the region say AI is definitely important or important to the execution of their business strategy, while one in four (27%) CFOs say it is less important. When broken down by region, CFOs in Poland and Romania think AI is most important (80%) for business strategy. The lowest scores were measured in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where 53% of CFOs consider it important.

Asked by sector, CFOs see AI as most important in technology, media, telecoms, consumer segment, and business and professional services, with 38% and 33% respectively considering it important or definitely important. Financial services also ranked high on the list with 27%.

"We are seeing a gradual adoption of generative AI in Central European companies. As with other technologies, AI allows companies to benefit from the experience of markets that have successfully introduced new solutions in the past. However, to truly unlock the value of the technology, it is essential that companies seamlessly integrate AI into their broader business strategy and, where necessary, more profoundly transform business models and operations,\" said Bálint Láng, Head of Deloitte Hungary's CFO programme.

Experimenting rather than implementing

The survey found that 11% of finance executives in Central Europe have already incorporated generative AI into their strategy, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia leading the way (20% are already in the process of incorporating AI and 22% are experimenting with it). A further 26% of organisations surveyed are still learning about the technology, while a third (32%) believe it is too early to adopt. While it is clear from the responses that most companies do not have a clear vision of how to embark on the AI journey, a small proportion - just 4% - are passively waiting for competitors to make the first move.

Poland and the southern part of the Central European region are rated as the most uncertain about the next steps, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic are well ahead of the average in incorporating AI into their strategies. The industries most likely to adopt generative AI solutions are the TMT sector (21%), life sciences (20%) and business and professional services (17%)

The more generative AI, the cheaper and more efficient

"Cost reduction is the main benefit that one in two (49%) Central European finance executives expect from the introduction of generative AI, followed by an increase in forecast accuracy (43%). Productivity and efficiency are also important considerations, with 34% of Central European respondents saying they are key to the introduction of AI, but the greatest strategic value will be the use of the new technology for innovation," said András Rusznyák, manager of Deloitte's technology consulting business.

One in three respondents (36%) see AI as an important factor in the development of new capabilities, services or products - with slightly higher than average percentages in the Czech Republic (40%) and Romania (42%) most likely to recognise its innovation potential.

Cost reduction is cited as a primary benefit, particularly in the most capital-intensive sectors, such as energy, utilities, mining (58% each) and construction (54%). In the professional and business services sector, financial managers are customer-focused: developing new products and services and increasing customer satisfaction are seen as the primary benefits of AI adoption (47%). Increased accuracy in forecasting, modelling and scenario planning is most valued in the consumer business sector (50%). Meanwhile, the technology, media and communications industry sees the development of new capabilities, products and services as the most important (49%), followed by cost reduction (47%).

HR - the biggest challenge for finance leaders

For more than half of respondents (59%), the biggest challenge to implementing technology is finding the right people, resources and skills.

"In a tight labor market, it is recommended that investments in technology and workforce are planned together and both are viewed as critical success factors. The introduction of technology is essential, but it is also necessary to understand its impact on people. Without this, it is difficult to gain the support of employees, which is essential for successful implementation," said Martin Csépai, director of Deloitte Hungary's HR consulting business.

Data sources and technology were the second challenge cited by respondents, with 51% of them saying so at a regional level. This challenge was cited most often by Polish and Romanian CFOs (58% and 53% respectively). The third challenge cited was the cost of investing in generative AI, with nearly half of CFOs (48%) citing this. The vast majority of respondents in Central Europe (67%) plan to spend less than one percent of their budget on AI investments.

Privacy and security were the only three barriers to the adoption of generative AI cited by Polish finance executives. The main reason for this is that businesses operating in the Polish legal system have long faced challenges in complying with changing legal regulations.

According to the survey, the availability of skilled workers is the main challenge in the consumer business (66%), manufacturing (62%), technology, media and telecoms (62%) and financial services (56%) sectors, while data and technology resources remain the main concern in construction (67%) and business and professional services (60%).

"The implementation of generative AI requires a solid foundation of digital and AI capabilities, including the technology infrastructure to provide the flexibility and computing power needed to run AI effectively, data management to integrate an organisation's digital systems with AI models, and change management, which includes training, cultural change and the necessary reorganisation and adaptation to new ways of working. In addition, addressing privacy, security, trust and compliance concerns will become a fundamental aspect of the transformation process." - said Dr. Gergő Barta, Senior Artificial Intelligence Expert at Deloitte.

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