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Research shows UK small businesses are ahead on AI and automation

Small businesses are faster at automating and implementing AI into business practices, according to research from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation of services and processes are becoming firmly entrenched in the UK business world. The sector is experiencing the first phase of the most important tech revolution since the start of the Internet. Some experts are heralding it the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This means that AI and automation will change every aspect of business over the next few years. This includes UK corporate bank accounts, financial services, who (or what) carries out certain tasks, customer service bots. It means streamlining and speeding up behind-the-scenes processes, to deliver faster service, using AI and machine learning. And it’s the businesses that are first off the starting blocks in terms of innovation that will take the lion’s share of the market.

Small businesses leading – UK corporate bank accounts

CIMA’s research shows that small businesses are leading this race. Compared with bigger companies, 18% say they’ve already implemented AI and automation in parts of their business. A lower 15% of mid-sized companies say they have taken similar steps. This is despite 26% of mid-sized companies saying that they could automate most of their operations, compared with 13% of small businesses.

These figures suggest that, although mid-sized companies have more room to automate processes, small businesses are more flexible to doing so. This could be partly due to the legacy systems that mid or large sized businesses are tied to, making it more expensive and difficult to implement new systems.

Adoption levels low

Real-life adoption of AI and automation is still quite low across all company sizes. This could be investors holding back due to the ongoing economic uncertainty the UK is experiencing because of Brexit. It can seem daunting to go ‘all in’ on brand new technologies. The perception is often that machine learning and AI are still at very early stages, and that there will be too much risk in investment.

However, investment right now in this sector will pay off long-term. There is no doubt that moving quickly to automate services and adopt AI tech will give businesses an advantage. And, while small and medium businesses can’t match the massive levels of investment necessary to develop overarching new tech, such as drones and automated cars, there are other steps to take.

Implementing AI and machine learning tools on a customer service website, for example, can reduce costs and improve service. For SMEs considering adopting new tech, the most important consideration is ensuring their workforce are upskilled. If the workforce can’t maximise the use of the new tech, then it will be a waste of money and time.

People are key to automation

There is a lack of understanding regarding how workers see their future in terms of AI and automation. For example, just 38% of workers surveyed think that technological innovations will affect their roles, and 26% have not even thought about it.

In contrast, 62% said that aspects of their businesses could be automated by 2023. While the interest level is high at investment and development level, it seems that the workforce is not given the same levels of focus.

New technology is altering workers’ roles within businesses, by shifting their focus into areas that technology can’t reach. For example, while machine learning can hugely speed up processes and reduce man hours needed to complete projects, people are still necessary to implement empathy, creativity and judgement. Despite this shift in focus, CIMA’s research shows that 25% of employees have had no in-work training over the last 12 months.

James Turner, Managing Director of Turner Little Limited says: “We are on the cusp of a technological revolution that could change the way the business world works. SMEs that take notice of the rapidly evolving AI and automation tech will reap the rewards that are there for the taking. And, while investment and development are obviously vital to making these changes, businesses must train their employees too.

“A change in attitude towards training and learning is needed across all businesses. Small businesses have the advantage of flexibility and not being tied to deeply embedded legacy processes, but they must include all employees to properly benefit from the advantages this technology could bring.

“It is a necessary step for businesses to ensure their workforce is given the requisite training in order to future proof their skills. While employees should also be proactive and take ownership of their careers, businesses must provide the tools and training. Without this, they could fall behind the competition.”

About Turner Little

Founded in 1998 in Yorkshire, UK, Turner Little is a specialist UK and offshore company formation, banking and corporate services provider. Our services include company formation, UK and offshore banking, asset protection, credit correction/repair, trademarking and trusts. Other services include Internet services, mail forwarding, wills and probate. Turner Little’s vision is to offer the best possible service, together with market leading products.

Turner Little and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. Material on this page has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.