Are UK companies at risk of falling behind due to lack of AI strategy?

Surveys | Technology

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the UK so fast that nearly half of bosses believe their business model won’t exist by 2023, a new Microsoft report has revealed.

The research – entitled Maximising the AI Opportunity – found that this country has a unique opportunity to lead the world in the development and use of AI but only if companies act quickly to embrace it.

While 41% of business leaders believe they will have to dramatically change the way they work within the next five years, more than half (51%) do not have an AI strategy in place to address those challenges.

Clare Barclay, Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft UK, said: “AI represents a huge opportunity, but only if UK organisations embrace its application in the right way. AI is not about making UK businesses leaner, it’s about how we use the technology to make them stronger. In doing so, we can make our work more meaningful and boost UK competitiveness.”

Some major companies and organisations across the UK are already using AI to improve how they work. Centrica is using the technology to analyse data, Great Ormond Street Hospital is improving patient outcomes, and Confused.com is using AI to empower its workforce.

A recent report from PwC found that that AI could help the UK economy grow GDP by up to 10.3%, while spending power could increase by between £1,800 and £2,300 per household.

Microsoft’s research, which was conducted in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London and YouGov, revealed that companies that have started to use AI are already outperforming organisations that have not by 5%.

Michael Wignall, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft UK, added: “We’re just at the beginning of the AI journey. That 5% performance boost will start to accelerate, quickly.”

Firms using AI were also found to be “more productive, have higher performance and experience better business outcomes”, while deploying it in an ethical way increased the gap between AI users and non-users to 9%.

The responsible use of AI was the subject of a recent House of Lords report entitled AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?. Its call for a cross-sector AI Code to be established to govern the application of AI technologies both nationally and internationally has been supported by Microsoft.

Lord Clement-Jones, Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, said: “Without doubt, artificial intelligence can provide a great opportunity for British society and the economy. Today the UK enjoys a position of AI innovation, so as we enter a crucial stage in its development and adoption, the country has a clear opportunity to be a world leader. For this, an ethics-backed partnership between business academia and government will be pivotal.”

While Microsoft’s survey of 1,000 business leaders and 4,000 employees uncovered the benefits of AI, it also found a worrying division of opinion on the technology in many workplaces.

Fifty-nine percent of UK employees are open to experimenting with AI and just over half (52%) believe using the technology to automate tasks can create time for more meaningful work, but 51% are not using it at work.

This is blamed on a lack of strategy and direction from leaders. Less than half (44%) of staff trust their organisations to use AI responsibly and only 26% say their organisation has a culture of transparency between leaders and employees. Meanwhile, 41% believe the widespread introduction of AI will force older generations of workers to get left behind.

Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, said: “How society, business and people adapt to AI will become one of the most pressing considerations of this generation and the next. Only by applying AI in the right way can we unlock its extraordinary potential for good.

“It is our firm belief at Microsoft that a human-centric approach can help organisations positively impact their businesses, employees and customers. Yet success tomorrow requires action today – organisations must act now to maximise the AI opportunity.”

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