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Prospect of artificial Intelligence of limited concern for UK SMEs

The majority of the UK’s SMEs are largely unconcerned about the prospect of artificial intelligence (AI), with the potential of improved productivity seen as a potential major benefit, according to research from Close Brothers Asset Finance. 

The results were obtained from the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey that questions over close to 1,000 UK and RoI SME owners and senior management across a range of sectors and regions.

“The potential impact of the rise of artificial intelligence and the so-called fourth industrial revolution have been discussed and debated for some time now,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance. “What our survey tells is that 65% of firms feel that AI is either going to improve productivity or that it’s too far in the future to be worried about. 

“The remaining 35% are more apprehensive, citing ethical concerns and the threat to jobs as their reasons for not being advocates of AI.” 

Q.14e Does the prospect of artificial intelligence concern you?

 
 

Yes, because it will take jobs

13%

Yes, because it opens up a number of ethical issues

22%

No, because it is likely to improve productivity

29%

No, because I think it's still too far in the future to worry about

36%

 

Technology and its role in improving productivity 

When asked the question ‘do you think better technology leads to more productivity?’, over half (51%) of SMEs believe better technology will result in more productivity with only 25% saying no; the rest are undecided. 

Regionally, Northern Ireland (64%), London (63%) and Wales (62%) were particularly positive, while in businesses with a turnover greater than £10m, this rises even further to 70%. 

The sector perspective: Do you think better technology leads to more productivity?

 
 
 

UK

Construction

Engineering

Manufacturing

Transport

Print

Yes

51%

40%

63%

57%

61%

68%

No

25%

35%

20%

26%

21%

19%

Not sure

24%

25%

17%

18%

18%

13%

 

Technology spend

Most SMEs (61%) are comfortable that their technology is up-to-date, with 22% admitting that it is not, while the remaining 17% are ‘unsure’. 

“With cashlow a constant concern for businesses, investing in technology is a key decision,” said Neil. “Firm owners understand that employee expectations are rising and that technology can provide competitive advantage; however, this comes at a cost.

“28% of SMEs update their technology every two years, while 23% do this annually. 6% of companies never invest.” 

Laptops and desktop computers – combined – account for nearly half of companies’ technology spend, with software third at 18%. 

 

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a GMI survey conducted in December 2017/ January 2018. The survey canvassed the opinion of nearly 1,000 SME owners across the UK and RoI and across several industries on a range of issues affecting their businesses.