Garbage in, garbage out: Why Australian businesses are losing the AI race


Opinion: As the world races to take advantage of a once-in-a-generation technology shift, Australian SMBs are at a significant risk of being left behind.

According to the Cisco AI Readiness Index, only 5% of Australian businesses are fully prepared and equipped to leverage AI technologies. This contrasts with the regional average of 17%.

Moreover, twice as many Australian companies are considered “laggards” compared to the regional and global average (8% vs 4%).

Even more concerning is that 81% of Australian businesses lack a centralised data source, which limits the use of data in AI technologies and increases the attack surface for cybercrime.

The quality and usefulness of AI’s output heavily relies on the data input, whether financial, operational, customer, product, production, or supply chain data. However, many SMBs face the challenge of missing, incomplete, or disorganised data.

When data sets are stored in different systems, locations, and formats, including paper documents in filing cabinets, they are bound to become duplicated, riddled with errors, out-of-date, or lost.

 The collection, storage, and maintenance of data are not new problems that have been causing serious issues for businesses, including inconsistent reporting, slow decision-making, poor customer service, and compliance or security breaches.

In fact, the global average cost of a breach in 2023 was US$4.45 million, a 15% increase over 3 years.

Without a reliable, secure and easily accessible centralised data source – also known as a “single source of truth” (SSOT) – Australian businesses won’t just be running inefficiently, they will rapidly be left behind their regional and global peers.


AI’s immense efficiency gains

Tech companies are infamous for hyping up products that come and go, which may cause apprehension among SMBs about investing in AI technologies, fearing they’re another “fad”. But AI is already having a huge impact on businesses.

While the past decade has seen incredible growth in the capture of data and, consequently, the improved measurement of performance, the next decade will see immense efficiency and decision-making gains in effective computation and utilisation of that data using AI.

For context, OpenAI, the world leader in AI technology, is powered by Microsoft’s AI supercomputer with 285,000 CPU cores and 10,000 GPUs – most personal computers have only one of each.

Furthermore, Microsoft has invested $13 Billion into OpenAI and is rolling out numerous features that leverage AI across its Office 365 and business management platforms, including its ERP product Business Central.

Its supercomputer also sits on Microsoft’s Azure cloud servers, making it accessible to the world.

Copilot, Microsoft’s AI tool, can already save business owners time reconciling accounts, writing e-commerce product descriptions, forecasting inventory requirements, predicting late payments, and analysing cash flow.

Overall, users found they were 29% faster in a series of tasks and could catch up on missed meetings four times faster.

Path to AI preparedness

It’s early days, and the AI race is not lost yet. However, 81% of Australian businesses still rely on spreadsheets, paper documents, and manual data entry, highlighting the need for data management to be a top priority this year.

That means cleaning, centralising, and connecting data using appropriate systems, such as an ERP platform that can serve as a single source of truth, providing accurate data that AI can quickly process.

Many of our customers have realised that to scale and grow their businesses, they need better systems. Storing and managing core business data in spreadsheets and disconnected tools makes it incredibly difficult to get a holistic view and see what’s happening across the business.

This can lead to business leaders making educated guesses. As businesses expand, overheads increase due to the excessive time teams spend on administrative tasks or fixing errors.

Data is the foundation of effective decision-making. A central data source gives businesses an accurate, reliable foundation to understand performance, prioritise investments, manage cash flow, adapt to changing market conditions, and scale operations.

An ERP platform will be the cornerstone to unlocking AI capabilities for businesses to achieve success.

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