Aussie firms urged to deploy AI to save productivity

Australian businesses should deploy artificial technology across more parts of their operations or the nation risked falling behind the rest of the world in productivity, a major technology conference has heard.

But Microsoft’s AI Tour event in Sydney on Wednesday also heard major corporations had started to experiment with AI tools in areas including online scams, computer code, and to banish “busy work” and unnecessary meetings to save employees time.

The call to action came just one week after the Productivity Commission found AI had the potential to “significantly boost” businesses in Australia, but also warned its use could highlight “gaps in current laws” that would need to be tightened.

In a keynote address, Microsoft Australia managing director Steven Worrall told an audience of more than 2000 people that organisations could unlock large benefits by using AI, and failing to identify opportunities could put the country’s global standing at risk.

“Here in Australia, productivity is a national agenda item, perhaps the most important one for us to confront and deal with in the years to come,” he said.

“While technology is not the only lever, we know it will be one of the primary levers that we have as a community and as an economy.”

Microsoft Cloud and AI Group executive vice-president Scott Guthrie said research showed AI software had started delivering financial benefits to companies who deployed it, with the greatest boost seen 14 months after its rollout.

“For every dollar invested, an organisation realises, on average, about a 3.5x return,” he said.

“We expect this number to increase as customers find new ways to integrate these tools.”

Businesses, including the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra, appeared at the event to share early findings from AI trials, with the bank revealing it had saved $10 million in a year by using AI to fight scam attempts.

Commonwealth Bank chief information officer Gavin Munroe said AI tools could be potent weapons in the fight against “fraud, scams, and financial abuse,” with the use of AI helping to thwart attempts to steal from customers.

“We applied AI to our digital transaction abuse and fraud … and within the first year we saw a 35 per cent uptick in our financial digital transaction protection,” he said.

“That’s about a $10 million saving in the first year alone and a critical area for us.”

The bank recently launched a 12-week AI pilot with 200 engineers during which 80,000 lines of code were successfully created using generative AI, and Mr Munroe said the trial showed AI could tackle mundane and “busy work,” giving more time back to employees.

Telstra product and technology group executive Kim Krogh Andersen said the telecommunications firm aimed to use AI across half of its operations and had already deployed it to give employees quick access to policies documented in 2000 different manuals.

“If we are not moving fast enough (in AI), we will get left behind,” Mr Krogh Andersen said.

The Productivity Commission’s research, released in three papers last week, also found Australian companies could “finally pull productivity growth out of the shallows” using AI tools but said the government would need to closely monitor its use and improve laws to ensure the public remained confident about its use.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)

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