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Company heads split on AI business case

Business leaders are split over the future of human and machine partnerships, unsure whether AI represents an opportunity or a threat – and torn by the need to mitigate any risks, according to new research from technology company Dell.

The quantitative research conducted by Vanson Bourne follows Dell’s other study examining the next era of human and machine partnerships. The findings forecast that by 2030, emerging technologies will forge human partnerships with machines that “are richer and more immersive than ever before”. Eighty per cent of respondents expect humans and machines will work as integrated teams within their organisation inside of five years.

According to Dell, the research found that even though more than three quarters of business leaders surveyed in the retail and consumer products industry believe that they expect humans and machines will work together as integrated teams within their organisations within five years – less than one quarter are already doing this. Approximately 15 per cent stated they’re unlikely to achieve this within five years.

Dell said 58 per cent of the 3,800 global business leaders surveyed from Asia-Pacific Japan (APJ) forecast that automated systems will free up their time, while the other 42 per cent believe otherwise. Similarly, 48 per cent believe they’ll have more job satisfaction in the future by offloading tasks to machines, while 52 per cent disagree. More APJ leaders predict this impact on their work and business, compared to their global counterparts, yet the research suggests APJ businesses are less prepared and more concerned about how to compete.

“We’re entering an era of monumental change as our reliance on machines reaches new levels,” said Mark Fioretto, leader, enterprise, Dell EMC.

“While almost a quarter of Australian business leaders surveyed said that humans and machines are already working together in their organisations, more than 75 per cent expect this will be the case within five years.

“With enormous change comes incredible opportunity. Australian organisations can either prepare for this new era and harness the immense possibilities, or risk being left behind.”

Dell said technologies provide opportunities for retailers to provide seamless and immersive experiences across multiple touchpoints and channels. However, just one quarter of business leaders in the retail and consumer industry are digital leaders, while more than half admit they are struggling to keep up with the relentless pace of change.

Split down the middle

Business leaders are also divided by whether the future represents an opportunity or a threat, and torn by the need to mitigate these risks. Fifty-two per cent of respondents said ‘the more we depend upon technology, the more we’ll have to lose in the event of a cyber-attack’. Meanwhile, 48 per cent are not concerned.

And while 53 per cent of business leaders are calling for clear protocols in the event that autonomous machines fail, almost half abstained.

“You can understand why the business community is so polarised,” said Jeremy Burton, chief marketing officer at Dell.

“There tends to be two extreme perspectives about the future: the anxiety-driven issue of human obsolescence or the optimistic view that technology will solve our greatest social problems. These differing viewpoints could make it difficult for organisations to prepare for a future that’s in flux and would certainly hamper leaders’ efforts to push through necessary change.”

Meanwhile, the greatest barriers to becoming a successful digital business in 2030 for the retail and consumer products industry include a lack of workforce readiness, lack of a digital vision and strategy, technology constraints, time and money constraints, and law and regulations.

When asked if retailers are behind the eight ball when it comes to the adoption of tech, senior IBISWorld analyst Brian Lo told Inside Retail it depends on the size of the retailer.

“The future of tech lies in the use of big data techniques, which enable companies to better predict consumer spending behaviour and order their stocks in a more organised and cost effective manner,” he said.

“Companies with larger customer bases are more likely to harness their data pools to make use of big data solutions.”

While machine learning can certainly improve operational efficiency in retail organisations, according to Lo, however, whether or not its potential impact is overblown depends on what results people expect and how soon they can be realised.

“Machine learning is currently used in conjunction with big data solutions to offer clients better insight into consumer spending patterns. Machine learning can also be used in automating customer service tasks via chatbots designed to help consumers with their queries and even provide gift recommendations based on how the recipient’s profile matches those of past customers.”

Lo said given that most emerging technology trends originate overseas, Australia-based retailers tend to be behind the curve on technology, relative to their overseas counterparts.

As a result, the retailers leading the local tech scene tend to be the Australian subsidiaries of technologically advanced overseas parent entities.

“Key examples include Amazon and Ikea, which make use of machine learning and virtual/augmented reality solutions to enhance their overall service offerings.

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