Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been more disruptive than anyone could have imagined, and uptake shows no signs of slowing down. Having to quickly adapt to the rise of AI has forced retailers to take a step back and analyse how these advancements will fit into their existing business strategy.

With many retailers eager to adopt AI technology, less commonly recognised is the risk involved in wielding this double-edged sword. Recent Veritas research has found that more than two-thirds (68%) of Australian office workers are already using generative AI tools at work, even though 54% say they have not received guidance from their employers on how to use these appropriately.

When used appropriately, AI can drive efficiencies and profit. But given most employers have not been as proactive as they could be with guiding their employees on how and when to use AI tools at work, it can put businesses at significant risk.

AI is an enigma, so what?

Most Aussie workers use AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard as tools to help gain faster access to information (50%) or to be more productive (36%). Using AI to take on more repetitive and administrative tasks allows workers to prioritise areas where they can contribute value to their business. These tools can also help organisations change their processes, gain a competitive edge, and reduce manual requirements, increasing their revenue.

What then is the concern around data security?

Online platforms are typically only one source of data that AI chatbots source from. Many AI chatbots also draw from their own databases, which can potentially include sensitive company information, intellectual property and personal details.

After all, roughly a quarter (24%) of Aussies admit that they have inputted sensitive information like company financials into generative AI tools. This is even as 43% cited their awareness of potential compliance risks in doing so, and 44% believe that AI chatbots could generate incorrect or inaccurate information.

Businesses and even AI developers are already identifying this as a problem. Amazon previously issued a warning to employees about ChatGPT, after corporate attorneys noticed the AI-bot mimicking internal confidential Amazon data. Even the developers of ChatGPT themselves have warned against sharing sensitive information in conversations over the tool, stating that they are unable to delete specific prompts from user history.

AI uptake is forcing retailers to consider how to ensure the integrity of any data processes that leverage AI and how to secure the data in case of a data centre outage or a ransomware attack. Any retailer engaging with these platforms must ensure that any data used for AI purposes is subject to the same principles and safeguards around security, privacy, and governance as data used for other business purposes.

The road ahead: How to use AI without compromising safety and efficiency

One of the first steps to drawing up a blueprint for safe, secure AI technology adoption is identifying pressure points within an organisation. For most Aussie workers, this is a lack of business guidance. Approximately 93% of Aussie workers note that guidelines and policies on AI use are important, but only 32% of employers provide any mandatory usage directions to employees. 

Without proper guidance from business leaders on how to use AI, employees may be unwittingly using AI tools in ways that put their organisations at risk. Some employees may hesitate to use the technology at all and resent their colleagues for taking ‘shortcuts’ at work; neither situation is ideal. Worse, this could even impact organisations directly as they face regulatory compliance violations or miss out on opportunities to increase efficiency across their entire workforce.

A robust framework for retailers to educate their staff on best AI practices in day-to-day activities is critical to ensure that employees know how to minimise risk while working, subsequently delivering profit and growth.

Retailers should also consider consulting or even joining forces with data management experts, who can help pinpoint data risks within their businesses and advise them on the best ways to protect and ensure their business continuity. Doing so will allow retailers to continue exploring the huge potential of AI technology and tools for their operations, while mitigating the risks associated.

The AI revolution will not cease anytime soon. To ride this wave of new technology to its full potential, retailers need to ensure they’re set up for success in exploring the opportunities involved, while ensuring their businesses are protected with robust guidelines around data and security.

Pete Murray is managing director for Australia & New Zealand at Veritas Technologies.