New research commissioned by Datacom reveals that almost three-quarters (72%) of Australian businesses are using some form of AI, but only half of respondents (52%) have staff policies in place for its use.

Most businesses are expecting AI to bring significant changes to their organisation – with 86% of business leaders believing the integration of AI within Australian businesses will impact operations and workplace structures. This has raised concerns for one in five (20%) who do not feel educated on the risks AI poses, with three in five (60%) expressing security and safety concerns over AI causing a loss of control.

Among the 21% of businesses that were not currently using AI, just over two thirds (67%) expected to be using some form of AI within 1-2 years and a further 13% expected to be using it within three years. Employee use of widely available AI tools, such as ChatGPT, to help them perform their work tasks was also strongly supported by 86% of respondents.

The results come from a Datacom-commissioned survey of over 300 senior business leaders (C-suite, senior managers, IT managers) working in Australian organisations with 200+ employees.

“AI offers significant opportunities to improve the way we work and to develop smart, adaptive solutions that meet the needs of our customers and communities, but it is critical that organisations have the right governance in place to manage the potential risks that come with AI,” says Datacom Australia MD Alex Coates.

Alex Coates portrait
Datacom's Managing Director for Australia, Alex Coates, says that while AI offers significant opportunities to improve the way we work, it is critical that organisations have the right governance in place to manage the potential risks that come with it.

“With this survey we wanted to look at adoption rates but also look at the readiness of Australian businesses to manage AI risks and opportunities at a governance level.”

Despite the high level of AI adoption – and predicted use of AI in the near future – a much lower proportion of Australian businesses have implemented policies and legal guidelines to govern the use of AI. In addition, 58% of organisations lack targets around the use of AI, making its success difficult to measure.

Just 52% of respondents had staff policies in place around AI usage, while only 40% had legal guidelines in place for use of AI and 39% had audit assurance and governance frameworks.

Datacom Group CISO Karl Wright says organisations need to be proactive about setting policies to manage associated risks around business data, IP and copyright issues, especially given 86% of respondents said they support their employees using AI tools to carry out their work tasks.

“The use of AI needs to be carefully considered, monitored and governed with clear policies and guidelines in placed to ensure the risks to businesses are minimised,” says Wright.

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Respondents' key concerns around AI policies and procedures.

The lack of governance of AI at an organisational level could be a contributing factor to the high number of businesses calling for government legislation and the suggestion from almost two-thirds of survey respondents that the implementation of AI should be management by specialists.

Of the more than 300 respondents, 89% felt there should be legislation for AI use in the public sector and (63%) believed AI implementation should be managed by specialists.

The survey also highlighted security and ethical concerns relating to the use of AI.

The key issues that respondents identified around AI usage were security concerns (60%), a fear of loss of control (60%), ethical concerns around AI use in wider society (45%) and the potential for a reduction in job opportunities for Australians (41%). A fifth of respondents also felt they were not educated about the associated AI security risks that exist.

“It is a positive that organisations are aware of the potential issues relating to AI use, but we would encourage them to look at actively managing those risks so they can still reap the rewards that exist around productivity, smarter analysis and application of business data,” says Coates.

“With the relatively high concerns around job loss, there needs to be some context. We see the potential to weed out more automated, routine tasks and focus that resource elsewhere. It is also important that we look to the future and implement the right skills and training opportunities now. The advent of more widespread AI use will see greater demand for AI and machine learning specialists, and data scientists and analysts, for example, so we need to build those skills into our existing workforce.”

Respondents were also asked to identify which industries stood to deliver the greatest gains for society from AU usage and which ones posed the greatest risks from the adoption of AI.

Financial services were identified as posing both the greatest risk (30%) and offering the biggest potential gains (22%). Healthcare and the use of AI in areas such as diagnostics were again seen as posing significant risk (28%) and opportunity for improvements (21%). The use of AI in legal services was seen as risky by 28% of respondents, while the use of AI in advertising and marketing was seen as a positive by 22% of business leaders surveyed.

The Datacom-commissioned survey was conducted in July 2023 by Antenna Insights.

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