Skip to main content


Artificial intelligence: a new phase of no return for Latin American companies
Monday, April 1, 2024 - 16:00
Brazo robótico en fábrica Unsplash

The adoption of AI is accelerating in the region transversally, to all areas in the business. Although retail, financial services, health and manufacturing are some of the sectors that take the lead, even the most unlikely industries today internalize that without data and technology there will hardly be sustainable growth in the long term.

“Let's put it this way: if you see how a refinery is operated, pretend that you are in an airplane cockpit and artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of suggesting the flight's pilot what is the best variable or “the best set of variables to get much more juice out of the refinery.” This is how back last year, during the Hispam Digita Forum 2023 in Bogotá, then vice president of Science, Technology and Innovation at Ecopetrol, Ernesto José Gutiérrez de Piñeres, described how the Colombian oil company uses artificial intelligence in its two refineries (in Barrancabermeja and Cartagena)

When Gutiérrez de Piñeres mentioned the popular phrase of “getting the most out of” the refinery, he was referring to the gross margin. “That, in refining terms, is called the gross margin. How for every barrel we refine today we can obtain the highest gross margin. Five or six years ago, when we started this exercise, the business traditionally gave us the goal of optimizing 30 cents of a dollar for each refined barrel. And [achieving it] the traditional way was [through] investments in physical infrastructure, in engineering, in making a tower or a new line, in old cans and water. With artificial intelligence we managed, in a period of six months, to optimize up to 20 cents per refined barrel and one thousandth of the original investment. Artificial intelligence today at Ecopetrol is not a wish. It is not a fad. It is an integral part of our operations,” said the executive.

The case of Ecopetrol is part of a growing list of multilatinas that have put AI under their sights as an enabler of growth for their business. Artificial intelligence is not a passing fad or one that only concerns the IT area of companies. Now it is something transversal, which impacts various areas, such as customer experience, supply chain, marketing, human resources management, among others. The industries that use AI are also diverse: finance, retail, mining and hydrocarbons, health, education and many more.

Figures speak. The report “Artificial intelligence in Latin America 2023: Exploring AI as a driver of change in the Latin American digital frontier”, prepared by NTT Data, highlights the consolidation and advancement of this technological tool amongst companies in the region. The study shows notable growth, with the share of companies adopting AI jumping from 58% in 2020 to 71% in 2023.

In addition to the business results, this growing adoption has impact on economies as a whole. For example, report 44 of the IDB's Integration and Trade magazine indicates that AI can increase annual economic growth in South America by one percentage point. The study analyzes the impact of AI in the main economies of the region: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru, which represent 85% of South America's GDP.

Today, companies are aware of the potential of AI and with this in mind they are redirecting investments. “Companies with the greatest leadership in this area plan to allocate more than 15% of their budget to AI technology in the coming years,” according to the NTT Data report. “I doubt there is a business leader who does not already know that AI has become the best means to achieve efficiency. But it's not just about cutting costs. AI will help us achieve our objectives in the most precise way possible and at the lowest cost, in the smartest and most personalized way,” says Leandro Peirano, director of the Kyndryl Peru Business Unit.

Staying competitive in a challenging economic environment is key for companies. And technology is essential to achieve it. “In an increasingly competitive business world, companies are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and stay relevant in the market. Artificial intelligence offers opportunities to improve productivity, optimize processes, personalize experiences, and deliver innovative products and services. This drives its adoption as a strategy to remain competitive,” says Wester Zela, PhD in AI, Machine Learning, Data Science, Digital Transformation and dean in Software Engineering and Systems Engineering at UCSUR .

Nowadays, all sectors are excited about AI. And there is almost no process that cannot be used to create, synthesize, compare or analyze information. “And, depending on the area of the company, there may be greater intensity in use. That is why there are examples of uses in all disciplines. The largest use and experimentation has been taking place with GenAI tools in both the education sector and when it comes to training at the workplace,” says José Luis Najarro, Advisory partner at KPMG Perú .

In this context, the use of artificial intelligence aims to increase the generation of value for companies. “As in most cases, the private sector adopts technology in the spirit of developing its business sustainably. This necessarily implies intervening and fine-tuning their processes in search of alternatives and options that allow generating the greatest added value to the company,” highlights Adolfo Guevara, practice leader at Aurys Consulting Perú.


Although AI impacts almost all sectors, there are some industries that today stand out for an accelerated implementation in Latin America. “[AI is] accelerating in key industries, such as manufacturing, financial services and retail. IT operations, including cybersecurity, and customer experience are the main business functions in which companies use or plan to use artificial intelligence. According to a McKinsey study, for example, GenAI could radically change the way financial institutions carry out risk management within the next five years,” notes Peirano.

Health is another of the sectors that currently leads the use of artificial intelligence, both in the field of research and in action. “For example, for medical diagnosis, personalization of treatments and recognition of tumors in medical images,” adds Yamilet Serrano, head of Data Science Department at UTEC.

The manufacturing industry is another area where AI is generating profound changes. For example, in the US, Grupo Bimbo optimizes demand forecasting and planning, as well as replenishment and pricing for retail companies, amongs, through an artificial intelligence solution provided by Zebra Technologies.

To do this, Zebra uses internal and external data, such as weather and local events. The AI solution provides more accurate forecasts for the company to make more informed inventory decisions. So far, the solution has simplified collaboration between route planners and operators, leading to the creation of a “Perfect Order” solution, which reduces forecast errors and has increased the company's productivity.

All of this would have been impossible without data collection. Data is the main input of artificial intelligence. Latin American companies are increasingly internalizing this. “Businesses understand that data can provide valuable insights that drive operational efficiency, innovation, competitiveness and growth. “In that sense, there currently is a lot of technological offer in data infrastructure and analytical technologies to collect, store, process and analyze data more efficiently and effectively,” highlights Zeler.

According to the first Latin American Artificial Intelligence Index 2023 presented by ECLAC and prepared by the Chilean National Center for Artificial Intelligence (CENIA), Chile offers the best conditions for AI development in the region, followed by Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Peru.

The index also measures certain dimensions, such as professional training in AI. In this field, the penetration of technological and disruptive skills associated with AI in the labor market is lower in Latin America (2.16%) than in the rest of the world (3.59%).

However, there are countries that exceed the global average. This is the case of Mexico, where skills around AI in the utilities sector exceed the world's average. In Argentina the same applies for wholesale commerce, transportation, logistics, and forestry and agricultural sectors. And, in Chile, entertainment and construction lead above the global average.


Not everything is perfect for artificial intelligence in the region. There are challenges and controversies around its use that are not yet resolved. One of them is ethics to manage it responsibly, respecting privacy, equity and transparency.

Several countries are preparing regulations on the use of artificial intelligence that allow their risk to be classified based on different aspects. For example, if its implementation allows the manipulation of behavior or exploitation of client vulnerabilities, if it is used for hiring or selecting people, if it allows the recognition of emotions, among others. “Depending on the level of risk classified, companies are expected to have risk and quality systems, data governance, transparency in its use, human supervision, accuracy, robustness and cybersecurity tests, and evaluation of their impact on people's fundamental rights. This is a good start, but as the use of artificial intelligence develops and new applications are discovered, the regulation will have to be updated,” warns Peirano.

This evolution will also imply a change in the rules of the game for companies and people. “This definitely involves changing our way of thinking, incorporating new concepts such as digital citizens, data privacy, establishing new responsibilities, governance frameworks and clear oversight to ensure that AI systems are developed and used in the best way. The idea is not to stop progress, but to balance the interests of all parties involved,” says Yamilet Serrano, from UTEC.

Despite its accelerated expansion, AI also fails to be viewed favorably by an increasingly smaller percentage of companies. “We have all heard many myths. Perhaps one of the most repetitive is that AI will replace human workers. Although it is true that there are many tasks that AI can automate, there are still a large number of human skills that it cannot replace and that it can only complement,” Serrano says.

According to Gonzalo Rey de Castro, Advisory Manager at KPMG Peru, another reason for caution when using this technology is that the data used in AI training may be erroneous. Thus, the results would not be completely reliable. “There are also issues of security and confidentiality breaches due to the exposure of company data,” says Rey de Castro.

Another popular myth among businesses is that AI is too complex. Although its fundamentals can be very intimidating, there are tools and platforms that make it easy to implement and utilize, even for users without technical experience.

Still, the shortage of AI talent is real. And it is not a minor problem. The NTT Data study mentioned above reveals that 20% of Latin American companies face challenges related to the lack of specialized AI talent. More than 16% consider that the organization's main problems or barriers to not applying AI in their business areas are the lack of skills and talent. “The areas of human talent are definitely one of the big issues. The generation of talent is tied to the ability to generate value […] The expert must be hired to do the evangelization,” suggests the NTT Data report.

And the human talent behind artificial intelligence is key to guarantee the success of its adoption, at a time when it has proven to be capable of transforming the business world due to its power to increase professional capabilities, automate processes, improve customer experiences and generate new insights from data.

AI, on its own, is not a single solution that can be easily applied to any business or problem. “Its use requires a strategic vision, a clear understanding of business objectives and challenges, as well as a strong data infrastructure, a culture of innovation and a solid ethical and governance framework,” says Kyndryl's Peirano.

The path taken by artificial intelligence, especially from last year, has been intense. 2024 will be no different and everything indicates that with the development of more accessible AI tools – ChatGPT style –, companies will adopt AI even more to improve results and manage resources.



Natalia Vera Ramírez