Is Australia clever enough for artificial intelligence?
IT company Infosys found that Australian companies are the worst prepared for the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies (out of selected major economies). To find this information, Infosys commissioned independent research agency Vance Bourne to survey 1,600 business leaders of companies with a) over 1,000 staff b) at least $500 million annual revenue across Australia, China, the United States, Germany, France, India and the UK
Although Australia spends the second-largest amount of money on automation, the country came last in both the skills needed for AI takeup and plans to integrate AI.
“Though many Australians may not recognise it, AI is all around us,” Andrew Groth, Senior Vice President & Regional Head of Infosys Australian and New Zealand said. “Using complex algorithms, Australian businesses are programming computers to analyse, learn and action vast volumes of data to help combat credit card fraud, speed up new medicine discoveries or even improve your online shopping experience.”
However, the study also found that major Australian businesses invested an average of $7.9 million last year in AI, which places it only behind the US. Infosys expect Australia’s AI spend to increase further, “as organisations in every sector look to scale up and broaden their AI strategies”.
Clearly, Australian financial investment in AI is high. However, businesses are struggling to translate money into results. “The path to AI deployment is a marathon, not a sprint,” Groth said.
We take a look at the Australian businesses who’ve committed to the marathon, and see what they’re doing to accommodate AI technologies.
Australian direct bank ME plans to explore AI technologies this year. The firm wants to supplement its existing automated decision-making capabilities and further streamlines its customer relations. According to ME IT boss Mark Gay, customer experience is something fintech businesses are doing well and thus they pose a threat to the banking sector. ME recognises a need to research and experiment with AI. They want predict the future of AI in banking. The bank will be feeding data into the Microsoft Analytics Platform System, a big data analytics appliance that it bought last year to gain further insights into AI. ME purchase evaluation, credit and behavioural data regularly in order to help automate decision-making. Its work with AI supports Groth’s claim that many large Australian businesses are already experimenting with AI. It’s early days for ME and AI, so no one can say whether they’ll reap the rewards of “cost savings, improved productivity and better decision making benefits.”
Groth continues: “We’re also seeing robotics AI in the form of driverless trucks that improve safety for Australian mine workers, autonomous machines manufacturing high-tech products and even a robotic pharmacist being used at a Perth hospital to order and dispense lifesaving drugs.”
Said hospital is Fiona Stanley Hospital, which introduced an automated pharmaceutical ordering system. The set up consist of $7 million robots which move, scan and store $200,000 worth of drugs daily. According to ABC, Fiona Stanley hosts the biggest robotic drug dispensary in the southern hemisphere. The human workforce previously responsible for these jobs has been reassigned to other tasks in the hospital. Rather than making staff redundant, Fiona Stanley Hospital has proven preparation for AI by planning to replace jobs
Australian audit firms join Fiona Stanley Hospital in the marathon to AI maturity. The Australian branches of big four audit firms KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PwC are financially supporting a new generation of artificial intelligence. KPMG has built a new AI team, named Solution 49x, which has grown to 30 staff members in its first eight months. According to KPMG, the unit will embed “artificial intelligence, machine-based learning, cognitive computing, advanced analytics, probabilistic reasoning and deterministic business rules management into core processes and functions within a client organisation”. Alternatively, EY has established EYC3, the firm’s advanced analytics business. EYC3 will be investigating a new breed of enterprise AI techniques. Deloitte also has a dedicated AI group – Automate. Automate is home to enterprise AI and cognitive domain knowledge. One in five client projects at PwC Australia presently involves some form of enterprise AI.
Large firms focusing on AI demonstrates efforts by Australian business to invest in the sector. Not only that, the efforts show an awareness of AI immaturity. Businesses are studying innovation in AI, experimenting with these technologies, and making sure that there are minimal job losses when AI arrives.
Why Alibaba Cloud is doubling down in Southeast Asia
Alibaba has announced expansion of its cloud business within Southeast Asia, with the introduction of a digital upskilling programme for locals alongside acceleration of its data centre openings.
This doubling down of its cloud business in Southeast Asia comes as the company faces stiff competition at home in China from rivals including Pinduoduo Inc and Tencent and seeks to up its game in a region considered to be the fastest-growing in cloud adoption to compete with leading global cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft.
Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and second biggest revenue driver after its core e-commerce business, finally turned profitable for the first time in the December 2020 following 11 years of operation, thanks largely to the pandemic which has spurred businesses and consumers to get online.
Southeast Asia growing demand for cloud
In 2020, there was a noticeable increase in interest towards cloud in SE Asia, with the population embracing digital transformation during the pandemic and SMEs across the region showing increased demand for cloud computing.
Such demand has led to the expectation that Southeast Asia is now the fastest-growing adopter of cloud computing with the cloud market expected to reach US$40.32bn in Southeast Asia by 2025 according to IDC.
And there are plenty of players vying for a slice of the cloud pie. While AWS, the cloud arm of Amazon, is the leading player in Southeast Asia (and across all of APAC apart from China), Microsoft and Google are the next two most dominant players in Southeast Asia with Alibaba coming in fourth.
“There is no doubt that during the past year we have seen the acceleration of digital transformation efforts across all industries,” explains Ahmed Mazhari, President, Microsoft Asia. “Asia now accounts for 60% of the world’s growth and is leading the global recovery with the digitalization of business models and economies. Cloud will continue to be a core foundation empowering the realization of Asia’s ambitions, enabling co-innovation across industries, government and community, to drive inclusive societal progress.”
Alibaba’s commitment to Southeast Asia
At its annual Alibaba Cloud Summit, the Chinese company announced Project AsiaForward, an initiative designed to upskill local developers, small-to-medium-sized companies and connect businesses with venture capital. Alibaba said it would set aside US$1bn over the next three years to develop digital skills in the region, with the aim of helping to develop 100,000 developers and to help grow 100,000 tech startups.
But that’s not all. The company, which recently opened its third data centre in Indonesia, serving customers with offerings across database, security, network, machine learning and data analytics services, also announced it would unveil its first data centre in the Philippines by the end of 2021.
Furthermore, that it would establish its first international innovation centre, located in Malaysia, offering a one-stop shop platform for Malaysian SMEs, startups and developers to innovate in emerging technologies.
“We are seeing a strong demand for cloud-native technologies in emerging verticals across the region, from e-commerce and logistics platforms to FinTech and online entertainment. As the leading cloud service provider and trusted partner in APAC, we are committed to bettering the region’s cloud ecosystem and enhancing its digital infrastructure,” says Jeff Zhang, President, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
What other cloud providers are pledging in the region
This pledge by Alibaba to upskill both individuals and businesses follows Microsoft’s announcement in April that it was planning to upskill Malaysia’s population and would invest US$1bn over the next five years to build a new data centre centre in Malaysia.
This is the latest in a long line of pledges to the region by the US tech giant, which is fast accelerating the growth of its cloud datacenter footprint in Asia, expanding form seven 11 markets, and recently adding three new markets across Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. Back in February, it announced plans to establish its first datacenter region in Indonesia and to skill an additional 3 million Indonesians to achieve its goal of empowering over 24 million Indonesians by the end of 2021.
And recent research by IDC shows that Microsoft’s most recent datacenter expansions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan alone are set to generate more than US$21bn in new revenues and will create 100,000 new jobs in the next four years.
Also last month, Tencent announced it has launched internet data centres in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo to add to its second availability zone opened in Korea last year and plans to add an internet data center in Indonesia, and Google has also been pushing into the enterprise space in Southeast Asia for several years now.
Expanding data centers allows cloud providers to boost their capacity in certain countries or regions.