The opinion and economics editors at The Australian and The Australian Financial Review may have been slathering over each other to impose herd immunity on the country, but happily for Australia’s business community, no one took them seriously.

Australia took a hit – especially in Victoria – but largely avoided the wholesale destruction of the economy and the trauma of mass death that the let-it-rip crowd wanted to visit upon the proletariat.

As such Australia’s business community fared better than its international peers, and is now better placed to recover.

And as with other markets, COVID also drove an accelerated move into digital business.

That’s our take from the data revealed by Cognizant in a recent report which reveals Australian businesses fared better than expected through the pandemic, with only 38 per cent speaking of a slightly-to-very negative impact on their business performance, ahead of their APAC counterparts (44 per cent).

The authors say Australian businesses were quick to respond to the pandemic and took swift actions to manage a sudden influx of demand for digital services and handle hundreds and thousands of employees remotely. Moreover, Asia has already shown resilience and recovery from the outbreak, with only a third (33 per cent) of APAC organisations believing the virus will impact their business in the longer term.

Digital acceleration

Almost half of Australian respondents (49 per cent) agreed the pandemic had accelerated the adoption of new digital working practices, compared to 52 per cent of companies globally and 48 per cent across the APAC region.

With the transition to a more digital environment, Australian companies aim to generate 14 per cent of their revenue from digital channels by 2023, up from 9 per cent today, and in line with APAC counterparts.

Companies that view the pandemic as a catalyst for becoming digital at the core and an opportunity to get closer to their customers and employees will maintain their footing and even grow stronger in the recovery.

As remote working becomes the new normal, and people transition to a hybrid working environment, Australian executives agreed the top three elements that will have a strong impact on Australian businesses by 2023 are hyper-connectivity, as billions of machines, devices and people become connected (56 per cent), AI (46), and process automation (46 per cent). Australian businesses are seven percentage points ahead than their counterparts in the region in predicting the impact of hyper-connectivity, AI, and automation on work, reflective of a more bullish approach to the future of work.

AI and the future of work

While Cognizant’s data shows notable growth in automation, AI, and machine learning, it won’t necessarily make humans redundant. Instead, it will lead to a greater requirement for certain human qualities that a machine can’t replace.

As AI becomes more prominent among Aussie businesses, data and the automation of tasks will become more accessible. With this in mind, Australian companies are expecting jobs to become more specialised (55 per cent), and work to become more analytical (46 per cent) and more strategic (45 per cent). Aussie businesses are five percentage points more bullish than their counterparts in APAC in making AI partner in work. As a result, businesses want AI to benefit their organisations by helping them achieve better decision-making (60 per cent), operational efficiency (58 per cent), and customer experience (54 per cent).

Customers expect brands to know them, anticipate their future needs, and blend smoothly into their lives. In June 2020, Commbank announced a coronavirus money plan: a new feature within the brand’s banking app designed to help customers better manage their finances during the pandemic. Companies that put machine learning and artificial intelligence to use and create innovative products and services that help customers save time, money, and effort will succeed.

In this human-machine environment, human-centric skills are going to gain prominence in the future. The top five skills that Aussie organisations say will become more important in 2023 than they are today are decision-making (64 per cent), communication (55 per cent), strategic thinking (54 per cent), learning (53 per cent), and leadership (52 per cent).

APAC’s top five skills were prioritised differently with decision making (59 per cent), strategic thinking (54 per cent), learning (53 per cent), communication (52 per cent) and leadership (52 per cent) being the order of priorities.

According to the authors of the study, Australian businesses are extremely bullish on decision-making (64 per cent AU vs. 58 per cent APAC) as a future skill. Human workers will get more focused on what to do with insights generated by AI, which requires sharpening of decision-making skills.

Rise of the Machines

Now the customers’ lives have moved online and there is a data explosion, forcing businesses to easily access and analyse multiple disparate data sources to create personalised offerings and drive customer acquisition and retention. That’s where machines will play an increasingly important role. Looking at the role of machines by the end of 2023, Australia, APAC, and global projections sit at similar levels.

The three key roles machines are expected to play by then are sifting large data sets to filter and identify errors or actionable items (26 per cent globally), data collection, curation, and management (24 per cent globally), and mining and analysis of data to diagnose problems, make predictions and recommendations (23 per cent globally).

Australia’s projections are at 26 per cent, 24 per cent and 24 per cent respectively, up from 17 per cent, 15per cent, and 15 per cent today.

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