UK businesses will miss out by shunning AI, experts say

UK businesses will miss out by shunning AI, experts say

Warnings come as new study reveals just 13% of firms use AI

UK businesses will miss out by shunning AI, experts say

UK firms that don’t “relearn” their processes and embrace artificial intelligence (AI) to its full potential could end up regretting their decision, according to futurist and author Bernard Marr.

“By not integrating, businesses are missing out on unprecedented efficiency improvements, cost savings, and the chance to uncover novel insights from their data,” he said.

Marr, whose books include ‘Future Skills’, believes the benefits for accounts teams are the automation of repetitive tasks, reduced errors in data handling, and analytics for better forecasting.

“Companies need to foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptability,” he said. “The future belongs to those who can unlearn, relearn, and leverage AI to its full potential.”

Marr’s warning follows fresh research from accounting software provider bluQube, which revealed just 13% of UK businesses have adopted AI-based technology, with just 29% of this number using it in their finance teams.

By contrast, the study respondents identified greater efficiency and productivity as two of AI’s greatest potential benefits. However, these were outweighed by concerns about retraining staff, the costs of introducing the technology, and the risk of falling victim to cyber-crime.

Skills shortage

For Tina McKenzie, policy and advocacy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the findings are unsurprising in light of unpublished FSB research showing that just one in 50 firms use machine learning.

She explained many firms have yet to embrace AI, despite the fact it is growing at a “breakneck pace” and could enhance customer services, predict future trends and spot supply chain risks.

“Some are shying away from the digital revolution because they don’t have the right skills to use it and haven’t considered what processes they could automate,” she said.

McKenzie also argued that, aside from the UK government’s Made Smarter programme, which highlights digital skills needed, there was a “dearth of support” encouraging companies to embrace AI.

“There is a job for the government to do to address the digital skills deficit and ensure productivity and growth does not grind to a halt. We hope it will consider how to encourage more businesses to use AI, such as making AI training tax deductible for the self-employed.”

Regulatory policies for AI should also foster innovation, according to McKenzie, and not restrict benefits to large corporations.

“Clear-cut rules concerning ownership of AI output, a robust mechanism for reporting AI-associated risks, and platforms facilitating innovation are all indispensable when it comes to fostering an equitable and inclusive AI ecosystem.”

This backdrop of uncertainty helps explain why bluQube’s research showed firms were divided when it came to their future AI investment plans.

While 35% expected to invest over the coming 12 months and 17% over the next three years, 12% said they weren’t planning to invest in this area at all.

The results also showed that cost is preventing 35% from using – or planning to use – AI in their business, while a third claimed they didn’t have the time to implement and train AI, and 23% cited security concerns.

Additionally, the study revealed that a quarter of business leaders were looking to replace employees with AI, with 6% claiming it was already allowing them to trim staff numbers and costs.

Integration by stealth

 Echoing Marr and McKenzie’s views, Phil Broadbery, head of technology at accounting firm PKF, argued that many organisations could already be embracing AI without realising it.

“Quite a lot of accounting functions have been embracing some elements of AI for some time,” he said, using platforms such as SharePoint and Xero as standout examples.

But Broadbery goes on to note that he understands the reticence of some companies when it comes to the increasingly popular generative AI systems, arguing that such tools can be deceptive.

“It can be very easy to get a very convincing incorrect answer from them,” he said. “There is a need to embrace generative AI but it needs to be done with good governance procedures.”

Broadbery believes having these in place should help allay leadership fears that AI could leave them open to serious security breaches.

“It’s important to have a system of quality management and procurement procedures, so you can check it’s an acceptable system to use and where the data is going,” he said.

He believes regularly discussing a firm’s needs with their technology providers can also make executives more comfortable with these ongoing changes.

Monomita Nandy, a professor in accounting and finance at Brunel Business School, agrees that organisations working together will help encourage the wider take-up of AI.

She highlighted collaborating with higher education academies engaged in related research, being involved in pilot tests, and working with incubators to innovate, test and commercialise.

“AI will develop fast because of the large-scale benefits. Better forecasting and efficient risk management will help the business to increase productivity.”

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