UK business investment in new technologies such as quantum computing, blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies, and artificial intelligence (AI) is set to jump in the next five years, according to the CBI and Accenture Tech Tracker survey.
- The proportion of firms seeking to invest in quantum computing is set to nearly triple (from 11% today to 32% in five years). Though still in its research phase it has the potential to speed up complex calculations – doing in just a few minutes what a computer would take thousands of years to do.
- The number of business respondents starting to invest in blockchain, and other distributed ledger technologies will double from 16% today to 35%.
- A third (32%) of respondents are also set to begin investing in artificial intelligence (AI).
Positively, two-fifths (41%) of respondents are supportive of the regulatory environment that underpins technology investment. However, a majority of businesses surveyed are deeply concerned about continued political instability in the UK. Just over half (51%) report that the country’s political environment is stifling innovation and undermining investment decisions.
Felicity Burch, CBI Director of Digital and Innovation, said: “AI, blockchain and quantum computing are all next on the investment horizon. These technologies will be used not only to improve customer experience and reduce costs, but open up new frontiers of innovation, from drug discoveries to drone deliveries. As we move from research to reality, investment in quantum computing is set to leap threefold, and could make possible experiments that are currently too costly and impractical.
“Ensuring data is secure, and that the teams developing it reflect modern society is firmly on the public radar, and it’s encouraging to see firms prioritising this. But with most firms surveyed planning to use AI in the next few years, businesses must do more to address unfair bias in data – this is one area where businesses will need to step up.
“While the UK’s regulatory framework is a strength, ongoing political uncertainty risks stifling innovation and undermining business investment in technology, jeopardising investments that could be worth billions of pounds. If firms are to continue developing the technology behind quantum computing, robotics and AI in the UK – ending political instability will go a long way to unlocking investment.”
Businesses see these technologies as a way to get a step ahead of the competition. When asked to rank six reasons for technology investment (from one to six, with one being the most important), firms ranked growing their competitive advantage as the most important reason (with an average rank of 2.2) followed by boosting productivity (average rank of 2.7).
Companies also recognise that, with the increasing use of personal data, building trust with both the public and employees will be crucial. Over three fifths (62%) of firms surveyed have invested in privacy and security over the last year and over two fifths (44%) have taken action to boost diversity and inclusion in the teams developing the technology over the last year.
Zahra Bahrololoumi, senior managing director and lead for Accenture Technology UK & Ireland said: “The rate of investment in emerging technologies is set to accelerate even further over the coming years as technologies such as AI and blockchain start to become more mainstream. Quantum computing is a little further off, however as we can see from the survey, UK businesses are getting excited about its potential and the investment demand is there.
“But greater investment doesn’t always equate to greater success. Tech adoption for tech’s sake often yields limited results or value. To make the most of their investment, businesses need to leverage technology, talent and be aligned with business objectives and outcomes. By adopting this approach, they can build an agile system to support the new tech that it needs to thrive not just now but also in the future.”
“One aspect the survey did highlight was the lack of awareness about some of the challenges and responsibilities that come with technology adoption. As data is collected and applied through AI, the need to eliminate bias and bring diversity of thought in is critical. If businesses overlook their important role in addressing this then we’ll fail to create the best possible outcome for society.”
A clear majority of firms report they have the facilities (80%) and leadership (69%) to innovate. But there are barriers to innovation, with a third (33%) of respondents reporting that their firms don’t maximise the value of the data they generate. And although people are a key part of the innovation process, a third (31%) of respondents don’t believe their staff have time to innovate.
When considering return on investment for technology investments, businesses are prioritising customer-focused innovation, measuring customer insight and engagement (47%) and reduced cost (40%). Firms are increasingly seeing the importance of good cyber security practices, with nearly all respondents saying they are prepared for system failures (91%) or phishing attacks (89%). But fewer businesses (74%) report feeling confident when it comes to managing reputational risk.