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Exclusive: The future of AI as a business tool

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss the implications and implementations of AI within enterprise with Bluewolf A/NZ MD Gavin Diamond.
 
What do you think the future of AI is in enterprise?

The way that we do work is changing dramatically. In the past, digital technology was the domain of the CIO, used in managing the company’s back office, its processes and infrastructure. But in today’s digital economy, digital technology is impacting organisations from top to bottom, not only improving the way that companies can operate and create innovative, agile business models, but also how employees interact.
 
One of the significant changes in the digital area is the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in almost every aspect of the business, in particular, the front line – marketing and sales. However, its demand for data, coupled with the need for flexibility and agility in processes, architectures and people, presents various hindrances to adoption.
 
In order to demonstrate value quickly, enterprise organisations need to unify the nuances of their operating model with AI capabilities – balancing the improvements in productivity and satisfaction, while shifting the digital mindset and culture of the organisation. The transformation benefits in the near term will be organisations can automate processes and streamline workflows to improve how companies interact with customers, answers their questions or requests, understand them while helping employees be more productive and prompting them with next best-actions.
 
Do you think Australian businesses are ready for the impacts and implications of AI?
 
Our research actually found that Australia still has a way to go in matching the global uptake of AI – 83% of businesses have not yet invested in AI to enhance self-service capabilities and to make their job easier (85%). However, we anticipate this will change quickly given the increasingly competitive environment with many innovative global companies entering the market. We are also seeing early adoption of AI in Australian industries like banking and wealth management, proving the use cases for other industries to follow.
 
We are seeing encouraging signs as innovation leaders of this country shift towards a data-first culture to drive superior employee experiences. Investment in AI will almost always require data transformation. Delivering products and services to market, with the speed and precision that customers demand, means everyone across the organisation needs to access the right data, at the right time, in a format to make insights accessible and actionable.
 
Do you believe that employees are right to be afraid of AI taking their jobs? 

I believe less fear and more knowledge of AI is required in Australia. There’s a misconstrued expectation in Australia that AI and automation will replace a significant number of human workers in the next decade. I believe that AI will take our jobs, and enhance them – AI won’t replicate the full scope of human intelligence, it will enhance it.
 
AI and other advanced technologies signal the beginning of a new era of business and the workforce at-large in Australia. For workers, AI will actually relieve them of the day-to-day tedious and repetitive tasks such as data-entry, analysing inventory and sorting through emails, so that they can focus on more in-depth customer service strategies, like targeted conversations with high-priority clients.

How important do you believe upskilling is to the future of many Australian employees? 

It’s incredibly important to equip Australia’s workforce with the skills required by both large and small businesses in today’s job market, in order to meet future global demand. Accessing the skills and knowledge need to undertake significant AI transformative initiatives and projects is an ongoing challenge for Australian organisations, which is why we’re partnering with key Universities in Australia to connect young people with the skills employers want and need from the next generation of workers.
 
But there’s a common and often fierce belief that Australia’s future will depend on these science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines alone. There’s also an assumption that the path to successful employment and a productive workforce will require the specialised skills and knowledge in STEM. Yes, we will need STEM skills, those skills require a far less rigorous and formalised education that it did in the past.
 
While Bluewolf is a technology business, we hire artists, musicians and historians. In fact, less than 10% of our global employees hold an engineering or computer science degrees. This is important because while the Sciences teach us how to build things, it’s the Arts and Humanities that teaches us what to build and why to build them. The skills of the future will be envisioning the end product and its usefulness, which requires real-world experience, creativity and historical context.

Can you explain the 'talent revolution' and what that means for Aussies? 

Today’s transformation technologies are incredibly intuitive; with the ability to sense and perceive, analyse and understand, and act on both structured and unstructured data inside or outside an enterprise. Advanced technology is also becoming more accessible and easier to use, with AI and modern systems able to be manipulated without writing code.
 
In this context, there will be a major shift in how Australian organisations invest their resources and develop their talent; the demand for specialised training will go down and the workforce of the future will demand a multitude of non-technical skills that cannot be automated. In fact with intuitive technology like AI, the nature of our jobs will become “more human”, through automating repetitive and mundane tasks so that employees can focus on high-value pursuits.
 
What are some of the key ways AI can help a workforce rather than replace it? 

AI is augmenting the way we work, with key insights allowing us to make far more informed decisions, across a range of different industries. Radiographers, oncologists and a raft of medical specialists can use AI to better inform patient diagnosis, treatment and care. Service delivery organisations can be prepared to deliver better customer experiences by predicting what the customer desires and surfacing that information before the customer asks. Insurers are predicting weather forecasts and proactively informing their customers to put their cars in the garage before that hailstorm hits. 

The intelligence of AI will also enable employees to take a more “human approach” to problem-solving. We’ve seen this at play with  Autodesk – using cognitive technology to enhance its customer experience through real-time customer service. By using Watson Conversation into their Salesforce Service Cloud implementation to build a chatbot to handle inbound inquiries, Autodesk has enabled their employees to focus on higher-value conversations with clients and as a result, increase customer satisfaction and sales.

How do you believe AI will impact the Australian workforce over the next 15 years? 

With Forrester predicting that businesses using AI will gain $1.2 trillion per annum, we’re going to see organisations shift dramatically over the next decade. Not only will AI set the standard for customer and employee experience, but it will change Australia’s normal job descriptions – from administrators and salespeople to facilitators, collaborators, presenters, and persuaders.
 
In closing what would you say to encourage Australian employees wary of AI?  

As our CEO Eric Berridge puts it perfectly, AI will reinforce, not replace, the humanity of how business gets done, enabling creativity and collaboration to thrive in Australian organisations. The onus is on Australian business leaders to plan and prepare now for how their employees will engage with AI in the workplace, to achieve a return on intelligence, innovation and inspiration.