Head for figures: AI can shoulder the burden of back-office administration tasks such as crunching data CREDIT: GETTY
AI could help small businesses punch well above their weight, but too few know how
British businesses are looking forward to a future driven by artificial intelligence (AI), which many believe could be the keystone technology of the next industrial revolution. However, many workers worry that their employers may not be ready to seize the opportunity.
Almost half of IT decision makers (45pc) believe that AI will drive the biggest innovations of the next three years, according to a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Brother UK and The Telegraph.
Melissa Di Donato, chief revenue officer at SAP Cloud ERP, says this should come as no surprise: “Once in a generation a disruptive technology arrives and changes everything. For this generation, it is artificial intelligence.
“The real risk UK businesses face is not embracing AI and the productivity benefits it can provide.”
Respondents believed that AI was more important than other “buzz” technologies such as the internet of things (24pc), and virtual reality or VR and augmented reality or AR (16pc). In part, that could be because the direct links to increased efficiency and productivity are clearer, whereas VR and AR usage remains contingent on the devices needed to experience them.
Where does AI plug into UK businesses?
Artificial intelligence will enable British businesses to save trillions, according to Kriti Sharma, VP of bots and artificial intelligence at Sage.
“Businesses in the UK spend on average 120 days a year on administration,” she says. “This has a huge impact on productivity.
“AI can shoulder the burden of back-office administration tasks such as logging expenses and crunching data, freeing up people to focus on what matters. Trillions of pounds will be saved annually.”
Yet despite the promise of AI, many respondents in the Brother UK survey felt that their employers are not ready. More than half (56pc) said they felt that their employer was unprepared for artificial intelligence, compared to just 19pc who felt theirs was.
Even at larger companies, a mere 10pc of respondents said they felt the business was “completely ready”, the poll found.
Businesses that cannot grasp the opportunities of AI risk a talent drain as individual workers seek out opportunities at employers which are ahead of the curve, says James Reed of recruitment site Reed.co.uk.
“Don’t get left behind. In order to embrace change, it’s vital to invest in developing your skills and keeping your knowledge up to date,” he says. That goes for employers as much as employees, such is the speed at which technology – and the skills needed to exploit it – move.
AI is already at work
However, many businesses in Britain are already reaping the rewards from AI, particularly in the financial sector, says Xavier Fernandes, analytics director at financial specialist Metapraxis.
“The financial services sector is already strongly implementing AI, and the UK, with the City of London at its heart, is positioned well to continue to be a leader in machine learning and other forms of AI.”
Other sectors are leading the way, too. Isabel Sargent, senior data research scientist at Ordnance Survey, says the organisation has used machine learning to train a machine model to identify roof types, freeing up human workers to concentrate on other problems.
Ms Sargent says: “Machines are much faster at processing images than humans. AI has the possibility to significantly increase the efficiency of our surveying operations, freeing up the surveyors we have on the ground to focus on complex tasks.”
It is up to ambitious SMEs to look widely at other industries to see where they could apply AI in their own organisations, or they will find larger companies suddenly becoming more nimble than themselves.