Andrew Winlaw has spent more than two decades providing clients in finance, telecommunications, retail, and government with intelligent information technology investment advice. As the VP and GM of IPsoft across Australia and New Zealand, Andrew is dedicated to helping grow the AI market in one of the leading technological innovation hubs in the world.

We sat down with Andrew to discuss his plans for the Australian market, where he sees the biggest opportunities for AI deployments, and how he thinks IPsoft and Amelia can help companies get started.

What is your background in technology/AI?

I’ve always worked around Information Technology — from my earlier days in Insurance Underwriting to more than a decade at IBM, and almost six years as the National Sales Director at CSC/DXC. These are large US technology service providers with strong market domination. I’m looking to create that opportunity for IPsoft in Australia.

How would you describe the technology market in Australia?

Australia is typically an early adopter market with some very tech savvy companies. However, the market has not been pressured for efficiency post GFC like the US and Europe. A lack of competition can stifle the necessity of change. There is a clear mandate for technology adoption and a digital agenda, however the rate of change could be quicker.

Recent studies have shown that only 9% of Australian companies are making sustained investments in automation, compared with more than 20% in the U.S. and nearly 14% in leading automation nations globally. This needs to change if Australia is going to maintain its early adopter and technology leadership status among its global counterparts.

How would you describe the attitude toward AI in Australia?

Everyone is interested and, in fact, fascinated as to what it can do. There is often surprise as to what the rest of the world is driving at an enterprise level. Role Process Automation (RPA) is reaching a point of maturity with chatbots still in adoption phase.  Advanced cognitive technology, such as Amelia, is the next true game changer which we need to drive into market based on our global experiences.

Since 2000, tasks that have been automated by Australian firms have freed human labor to perform more unique and human-focused tasks. In 2000, automatable activities, such as a doctor sifting through piles of scanned images to detect a tumour, would take up 14 hours (or 40%) of a typical 35-hour week. Fifteen years later, the time declined to 11.9 hours (or 34%) per week. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Australia and everyone else in the world. So, businesses especially are tremendously excited about AI and its potential.

What are some of the challenges businesses and agencies are facing in Australia?

Risk and compliance is dominating the financial and regulatory landscape, whilst foreign entrants to our market are looking to disrupt. The digital startups are forcing change to the way we consume goods and services, and of course people worry about their jobs as AI progressively starts to explode at consumer, small business, enterprise and governmental levels. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to drive the digital revolution with life changing products and services.

A recent survey of Australian business decision-makers found that companies don’t have the security infrastructure in place to confidently invest in AI. They’re capable of doing it, but they’re not 100% certain how to build the data protection required to protect customers and proprietary data. Additionally, and this ties into the security bit, they cite a lack of available talent to help them envision, implement, and optimize their AI implementations. If companies are able to overcome these two hurdles, I believe we’ll see a dramatic increase in the number of Australian companies that spend big on AI.

Two other issues companies say they face are low levels of leadership support, and the lack of a clear business case for AI investment. I believe these two issues are tied to the security and talent concerns. If you find the right people who can clearly articulate the power of AI and the ways in which it can be secured, there is no excuse for further procrastination.

How could AI benefit Australian businesses and agencies?

We are seeing great interest in all industries in the capabilities of enterprise AI. There is a trend back towards on-shoring of call centres which cannot be economically achieved without AI integration. Royal Commission like fines for some financial institutions are driving the need for Amelia’s business process automation coupled with human-like conversational AI. Even retailers face challenge around the cost of “bricks and mortar” versus digital channels. Government departments can no longer throw masses of people at the problem. The timing is right for AI.

If you take the call centre, for example, AI can help provide a superior customer experience, it can automate repetitive tasks, such as helping customers reset passwords, and it can help companies speed up the service process, thereby increasing the volume of customers who are served. This is a massive opportunity that not only allows companies to make customers happier, it also allows them to sell more products and to encourage new customers to buy their products.

What are your goals for IPsoft Australia?

Threefold — brand recognition, growth and market leadership. We are a relatively new player in the Australian market and aspire to the recognition IPsoft has in the US and Europe. We are looking to grow the brand through strength in partnership and through a small, dedicated team of sales and presales into financial, telecommunications, healthcare and government customers. Our strength is our product and customer base. This is amplified by the passion in our people. This is a great recipe for success.

What roles do you see Amelia taking on in Australia?

We’ve had some success in banking with strong pipeline in insurance, government, healthcare and telecommunications. Service Desk and HR are certainly areas of adoption we are forecasting. I can see airlines and supermarkets having a close look also. Australians are blue sky thinkers.

Think of it this way: Any business in which human workers can accomplish their jobs in faster and more intelligent ways, AI could be of tremendous service. Any business that requires a deft touch when interacting with customers could benefit from AI. Business that are driven by a massive amount of data should look to AI to help them sort through and present that data in palatable ways for back office workers. We approach our customers with an industry focus, but AI shouldn’t be seen as an industry-specific play; rather, companies should focus on the problems AI can solve and whether or not it works for them.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The largest firms in Australia are already investing in AI. Almost ninety percent of companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue are already investing in AI. These companies have seen bottom line results and they’re already looking to expand AI to new areas. Australian companies must begin thinking about how and where to invest in AI. IPsoft is here to help them.

We have a fantastic opportunity to change the way we do business in Australia. Our reference sites are our strength and we should always be on the lookout for innovative use cases to apply. We’re here to change the game. There are no silly ideas only innovative solutions.

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