The Swiss AI Center’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence in the digital transition of Swiss SMEs. The associated socio-economic challenge is to increase their competitiveness, to limit relocation and to create new competences at the interface of laboratories and the practical use of artificial intelligence.
SMEs in Switzerland represent 3 million jobs in 590,000 companies, or 60% of the active population. The digital transition is a major challenge for SMEs, impacting all areas, from administration to production, including sales and purchasing. In this digital transition, many SMEs could increase their competitiveness and avoid relocation by accelerating the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their digital portfolio. Indeed, players predict numerous use cases for AI in SMEs: marketing and sales targeting, better efficiency in processing documents related to customer services, financial optimization, decision support, predictive maintenance, and this, in all areas including retail, health, energy and construction.
Currently, AI developments are extremely rapid, accompanied by a democratization of costs. Investments in AI double yearly, indicating a strong activity in the creation of tools and services. Aware of these developments, the Federal Council has made AI a central theme of its “Digital Switzerland” strategy. Many AI projects are indeed being developed, but mainly at the level of large companies and organizations. The adoption of AI by SMEs remains difficult. Various obstacles are cited such as the lack of knowledge, the difficulty of accessing local human skills and the significant investment. Two other key factors are also at play. The first is data security, with AI components that essentially involve the use of cloud services, often outsourced outside Switzerland. The second is related to the sustainability of AI, which, by nature, needs to be frequently updated when contexts change.
The Swiss AI Center aims to set up a structure, to develop tools and to offer services that will allow SMEs to accelerate the adoption of AI components in their digital transition. On the one hand, we have the ambition to bring together the AI skills of the 5 engineering schools of the HES-SO in French-speaking Switzerland with the creation of the first Swiss Center for Artificial Intelligence dedicated to SMEs. On the other hand, we want to offer SMEs access to a range of tools for faster adoption and deployment, such as tools for data preparation, rapid prototyping, quality control, bias detection and re-training. Finally, we also aim to open services to support SMEs on the dimensions of knowledge acquisition, use case identification and preparation for AI accreditation.
Through this center bringing together its 5 engineering sites with access to more than 80 active AI researchers, HES-SO will be identified as a leading partner in the field of AI for SMEs. The Center will be a catalyst for local expertise and will offer services to accelerate the adoption of AI in areas useful to SMEs. The project also aims to sustain the center beyond the program.