Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t new. Spotify recommends music for us, Tesla has self-driving cars, and banks use AI to check that we’re not being scammed.
But recently, this technology has gone from being used only by big tech companies to something businesses of all sizes are using. Employers are increasingly adopting accessible AI and automation tools to drive business productivity and growth.
Of the 100 businesses surveyed for the 2023 Australia’s AI ecosystem momentum report, by the CSIRO’s National AI Centre (NAIC), 68% said they had implemented an AI plan. A further 23% said they planned to implement one in the next 12 months.
AI has gone from niche to normal.
Businesses across Australia are finding numerous ways to make use of AI and automation in their operations. Retailers are using AI to give customers tailored product recommendations. Health businesses are using automation to improve efficiencies in record management. Manufacturers are using AI to predict demand and automate procurement.
And since the launch of Chat GPT in late 2022, businesses have been finding more uses for generative AI. It can be a valuable tool for everything from writing and illustrating first drafts of emails, newsletters and presentations to reporting on industries and competitors, details Xero in its 2024 Business Trends Guide.
The benefits are clear to see, says NAIC director, Stela Solar. “Our research shows Australian businesses reported an average revenue growth of $361,315 for each AI-enabled solution that was implemented, regardless of which part of the business these efforts were targeted,” she says.
Implementing AI does come with challenges. What most business owners’ worry about are data security, hallucination (the technology’s tendency to fabricate untrue facts) and plagiarism, Xero says. And the NAIC report raises issues such as privacy, security and data quality, which can be made worse by talent shortages for implementing and operating AI systems.
The report also calls on business leaders to “develop and deploy responsible AI solutions to ensure accountability and mitigate the risk of unintended consequences”.
These considerations must be taken seriously as AI becomes more attractive to businesses. There’s certainly no going back from here; PwC estimates that AI could add US$15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 through increased productivity and consumer demand for enhanced products.
What is AI?
The CSIRO report, Australia’s AI ecosystem momentum, defines AI as “any technology (hardware and/or software elements) that is utilised to improve business performance and outcomes through the automation of tasks, interactions, decision‑making, and data analytics.”
It adds: “AI systems can be programmed to perform specific tasks such as reasoning, planning, natural language processing, computer vision, audio processing, interaction, prediction, process automation, text analytics, machine learning, and more.”
Economist and business strategist Ari Magalhaes has embraced AI to help run her Hobart-based management consultant business, Omni Strategic.
“I love technology,” she says. “I use a range of different AI tools.”
These include Chat GPT, which Magalhaes uses for tasks such as generating social media content and research. “It’s work that a business analyst or researcher would do,” she says. “I used to pay for it, but now I get Chat GPT to do it.”
She also uses the AI-powered calendar Clockwise to optimise her workdays; Jasper to do some of the admin jobs that she previously gave to her virtual assistant; and the transcription tool Tactiq, which provides minutes for some of the meetings she attends.
Magalhaes has done online courses and a fair bit of research to get the most out of these tools. And she’s also had to think about privacy: she is careful not to share confidential information with her AI tools.
But overall, the AI experience has been immensely positive, Magalhaes says. She estimates it’s saving her business $20,000 a year, and has increased her productivity by 30%. The time she spends on admin and other tasks has been dramatically reduced, and she’s able to fit much more into her day.
“The clients get a lot more value. The team is able to deliver a lot more.”
Automation and onboarding
For businesses big and small, applying technology to automate processes can be an easy way to reduce costs and improve productivity. Getting smart machines to do boring everyday tasks, freeing up humans to tackle more creative tasks, can also lead to better engaged staff.
Tasks such as the onboarding of employees are perfect for automation. Beam’s Super Fund Onboarding (SFO) automates this traditionally time-consuming and frustrating process by enabling employers to add new employees, invite them to validate their personal details, and record their choice of super fund and tax file number declaration digitally, in one secure place.
The process is simple and fully trackable via a web-based interface, making it easy for employers to see where a new employee is at with their onboarding journey. Less frustration and time spent managing red tape, equals a more engaged payroll team – that can instead do more rewarding or demanding tasks – and happier new employees.
SFO also helps employers manage their super obligations in one place, reducing admin burden and lightening their workload. It’s just one way in which AI and automation are transforming HR and payroll tasks.
AI and automation are being used to help businesses hire staff, increase accuracy and efficiency (and reduce fraud) in payroll, and assist with other areas of HR, including records management, performance assessments, and responding more efficiently to employee needs through HR support desks.
The benefits can include enhanced employee support, increased efficiency and enhanced candidate experiences, says IBM: “Along each step of the recruitment process, from hiring to onboarding, AI can help managers save time and better reach top talent.”
How Australian businesses are using AI and automation
Embracing AI in your workplace
Magalhaes says adopting AI in your workplace starts with identifying goals. “Define very clearly what you want to improve, and in what processes you want to incorporate AI,” she says. “Then see what tools are suited for that.”
Researching solutions, comparing suppliers, and considering scalability and return on investment are crucial before you take the plunge. And be aware that finding one provider that can provide all your AI solutions is, at this stage, a difficult task. Most respondents to the NAIC’s report engaged at least four AI technology and service providers to deliver an AI project.
Businesses should also consider what new skill sets they might need now or in the future. Some businesses may decide to recruit specialist AI staff. The Sydney-based safety technology company TALK5, for example, offers an AI-powered, voice-enabled, work health and safety platform that delivers essential safety instructions in 15 languages, enabling inductions, check-ins and communication with multilingual employees.
While it makes use of ready-made AI tools such as language models, it decided to take charge of core innovation itself. “We needed at least one AI expert in-house; this is why we hired our first AI product manager,” says CEO Shirley Gwynn. “We realised that solely relying on what large AI companies tell us may not always meet specific needs – innovation and ideas come from the business.”
For other businesses, the way forward may be to invest in training: from courses that cover how to design an AI strategy, to programming courses for IT staff, and more general courses that help staff work with AI tools. Introducing Chat GPT into the workplace, for example, is more likely to be successful if staff are trained in how to prompt it and the importance of checking the accuracy of its outputs.
The federal government is currently offering an incentive to invest in training: the small business skills and training boost provides businesses with an additional 20% tax deduction for external training courses delivered to employees by registered training providers between 9 March 2022 and 30 June 2024.
Businesses also need to consider the regulatory, data and cybersecurity knock-on effects of adopting AI.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre says assessing system security, supply chain risks, and how the system will affect your organisation’s privacy and data protection obligations, are all crucial: “Organisations considering using or developing AI systems should approach their decision-making as they would with any other IT technology, and evaluate the specific benefits, risks, and consequences for their organisation.”
If you’re introducing automated processes, it’s important to ensure any time efficiencies gained are redirected to other areas of the business. You might also look at how processes can be integrated to further improve efficiencies.
It’s also important to manage staff expectations and reduce concerns. More than a third of workers fear that AI will make some or all of their duties obsolete, says the American Psychological Association (APA).
Australian workers are also concerned: 46% say they’re worried AI will replace them, according to Microsoft’s 2023 Australian Work Trend Index report. However, two in three people said they were comfortable using AI to support their role, indicating that workers are willing to accept AI – as long as it’s not going to take their jobs.
The future of AI
The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts AI will have three major effects on the workplace of the future:
AI will, overall, drive job creation. Nearly half of the 803 companies surveyed for the WEF’s 2023 Future of Jobs Report expected the adoption of AI to create jobs; while 23% of respondents expected it to displace jobs.
The biggest gains were expected by the automotive and aerospace industry; in research, design and business management services; in IT services; and in electronics.
Only four industries expected AI to drive job losses: oil and gas; real estate; media, entertainment and sports; and production of consumer goods.
Businesses will prioritise AI skills. AI and big data rank behind only analytical and creative thinking in organisations’ skills strategies for 2023-27.
Many tasks will be augmented, not automated, by AI. While certain tasks, such as information gathering and simple decision-making are likely to be fully automated, there’s a growing consensus that AI will largely augment human performance rather than replace it. Leadership and imagination skills may be largely unaffected by AI.
How exactly AI will affect the future of work remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: there will be no stopping it. The WEF says globally, 75% of companies will have adopted AI by 2027, and 80% of businesses plan to accelerate automation between now and then.
With businesses of all sizes considering how AI and automation can benefit their business, there are clear efficiencies already to be found through employee onboarding and meeting employer super obligations.
Automation is the future of business and it begins with employee onboarding. Check out Beam’s Super Fund Onboarding (SFO) to learn more.
Super Fund Onboarding is powered by Beam. Beam is part of Australian Retirement Group. Beam is issued by Precision Administration Services Pty Ltd (Precision) (ABN 47 098 977 667, AFSL No. 246 604).