25th IGA annual conference 2023 – Artificial Intelligence in cooperatives

On 10 November 2023, the International Institute for Alpine Cooperative Research held its 25th annual conference in Bolzano, South Tyrol.

Artificial Intelligence: Hype or Opportunity?

On 10 November 2023, this year’s IGA conference in Bolzano, Italy, discussed what role adaptive and strategic machines can play in the ecosystem of cooperatives.

“AI (Artificial Intelligence) enables technical systems to perceive their environment, deal with what they perceive, solve problems and act to achieve a specific goal.” This is the European Parliament’s definition on its website for this technology, which, according to Herbert von Leon, Chairman of the Raiffeisen Association South Tyrol, “everybody is talking about”. These systems can adapt the way they act by analysing consequences of past actions in order to work independently. Arnulf Perkounigg, IGA Chairman (IGA – International Institute of Alpine Cooperative Research) sees it as an “interplay of boon and bane”. This opinion makes him one of the 88 percent of Europeans who think that “this technology needs to be applied with care”. This is one of the results of the 2017 Eurobarometer survey carried out across the 28 EU countries. However, 61 percent of Europeans have a generally positive attitude towards AI and robotics.

How do Alpine cooperatives perceive this phenomenon?

In order to take a look at the issue from various angles, IGA invited practitioners from credit and goods cooperatives and presented them with strategic management research.

Manuel Schwarzinger, Division Manager for IT and Digitalisation at the Upper Austrian Raiffeisen regional bank took a sporting approach. As the fifth-largest bank in Austria with an extensive investment portfolio, it already fulfils one important requirement for using AI: access to Big Data. The Raiffeisen expert brought a self-assessment questionnaire for the participants to fill out.

Gabriel von Mitschke-Collande presented specific use cases from BayWa. For example, with the help of AI, BayWa determines precise market prices for used machinery. In the field of marketing, AI helps with putting together campaigns and selecting target audiences based on customers’ purchasing behaviour. Lastly, the BayWa CDO highlights that “Generative AI (ChatGPT) also improves the item master data’s quality”.

On the other hand, Michael Nippa had to “pour some cold water on the matter”, when he said: “The fact is that it is a hype.” As a professor for Strategic Management and International Management at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, he supported his argument with his own internet search around the keyword “ChatGPT” in Italy, the 2023 Gartner Hype Cycle™ for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a search of titles, abstracts and keywords, such as “Artificial Intelligence” or “AI” in the Harvard Business Manager. In terms of the role that AI plays for cooperatives, Nippa stressed: “AI is required where there is Big Data.”

Competence Centre for the Management of Cooperatives established at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Cooperatives have always been cornerstones and drivers for economic and social development in South Tyrol. This Competence Centre’s goal is to support research and innovation for cooperatives, in order to be able to adapt to the changes resulting from ever-changing social, ecological and economic challenges, said Peter Agstner, member of the Competence Centre’s management body, which Michael Nippa is also part of. The Competence Centre collaborates with South Tyrolean institutions that promote the development of cooperative systems, for example the South Tyrolean Cooperative Associations Coopbund, the Raiffeisen Association, Cooperdolomiti and Associazione Generale delle Cooperative Italiane (AGCI), as well as national and international research institutes that look at the discussed phenomena from a multidisciplinary perspective. 


International Institute of Alpine Cooperative Research
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Alpine cooperatives boast 100 years of success


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IGA awards substantial prize money to support research on cooperatives, especially in the Alpine region.


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We believe that it is time to work together on enhancing the central cooperative idea.


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