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IDC AI Study

Australian business leaders’ eye Artificial Intelligence boost but 46% yet to act

Lack of skills and leadership commitment loom as biggest threats to AI adoption

Sydney, Australia, 1 April 2019 – New research into Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a growth driver for Australian businesses, today revealed that just over half of Australian organisations (54%) have started to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) as part of their business strategy, despite 80% of Australian business leaders believing AI is important to their organisation’s competitiveness over the next three years.

The study found that Australia lagged other Asian nations in areas such as AI capabilities and strategy, with only 14% of organisations having adopted AI as a core part of their business strategy to date.

While Australian businesses have been slow to adopt AI, the potential of AI for Australian businesses is significant, with business leaders saying it will allow the rate of innovation improvements within their organisation to increase 1.5 times by 2021, while employee productivity gains are expected to increase 1.6 times.

The research, Future Ready Business: Assessing Asia Pacific’s Growth Potential Through AI, was produced by Microsoft in partnership with IDC Asia/Pacific and included interviews with more than 1,600 business leaders and 1,500 workers across Asia Pacific, including 118 and 102 respectively from Australia.

“We are at a critical point in Australia where in just a few  years we will see a massive gap between organisations who have embraced AI and those that have not,” said Steven Worrall, Managing Director, Microsoft Australia.

“AI is the defining technology of our time and has the potential to significantly accelerate business transformation, enable innovation, boost employee productivity and ensure future growth. Australian businesses that have yet to invest in an AI strategy, and crucially identified the skills and capability they need to support them with this strategy, run a real risk of falling behind.”

Business leaders need to address skills challenge for an AI-enabled workforce

Among the key challenges facing Australian businesses in their adoption of AI are a lack of skills, resources and continuous learning programs (28%); and a lack of leadership commitment to invest in AI (25%).

While 56% of business leaders said they would invest more in employee skills than in AI technology from an investment perspective, 60% of business leaders have yet to take any steps to help their people acquire AI related skills.

A lack of time and not knowing what courses to take were cited as the two key reasons both business leaders and workers have yet to develop AI-related skills.

In terms of the impact of AI on jobs, the study found that Australia’s business leaders and workers generally hold positive views about AI’s impact on the future of work. More than half (63% of business leaders and 51% of workers) believe that AI will either help them do their existing jobs better or reduce repetitive tasks.

While 30% of workers don’t believe AI will have any impact on their jobs, only 11% of business leaders believe that to be the case, suggesting some disconnect between leadership and frontline workers with respect to the impact AI may have on jobs in the future.

The study also found that having the right organisational culture is key for businesses to embrace AI.

A significant proportion of business leaders (more than 40%) and the majority of workers (more than 56%) surveyed believe that the cultural traits that support AI adoption, such as risk-taking, proactive innovation, as well as going beyond job descriptions, are not pervasive in Australia today. Australian workers were generally more sceptical than business leaders about the cultural readiness of their organisations to fully adopt AI.

“It’s encouraging to see so many Australian business leaders acknowledge the need to invest in providing their people with the necessary skills to succeed in an AI-enabled world. I am firmly of the belief that investing in the right skills and creating the right cultural environment for innovation to succeed, are crucial to the success of any AI strategy.

“However, the lack of urgency in implementing training plans to help people acquire the necessary skills to succeed in an AI-enabled world, gives some cause for concern. Now is the time for business leaders to embrace a culture where innovation and continuous learning are core components. Organisations where employees are empowered to take risks, show initiative and make decisions autonomously, are best placed to excel in the future,” Worrall said.

“To succeed with AI, Australian businesses need to substantially improve their AI readiness. Organisations’ should make AI a core part of their business strategies moving forward and continuously invest in this technology for long-term success, sometimes without immediate returns,” said Victor Lim, Vice President, Consulting Operations, IDC Asia/Pacific said.

“There is an urgent need for talent and tools to develop, deploy and monitor AI models, along with the availability of a robust data estate with adequate governance,” Lim concluded.

Future Ready Business: Assessing Asia Pacific’s Growth Potential Through AI surveyed 1,605 business leaders and 1,585 workers, including 118 business leaders and 102 workers in Australia.

For more information, download study Assessing Australia’s growth potential through AI – March 2019