The three big barriers bringing AI to a halt

Lack of funding, education and access to experts are preventing SMEs from implementing effective AI

The three big barriers bringing AI to a halt

That’s the message industry experts from the world of artificial intelligence (AI) shared with the UK Government at two recent invite-only events focusing on the early-stage adoption journey for SMEs.

Industry experts attended 10 Downing Street to talk about how SMEs, the tech industry and leadership can collaborate to adopt effective AI. The UK Government sought to understand how this collaboration can drive the uptake of AI and to test its emerging thinking on its adoption.

Many UK SMEs are overwhelmed by the development of AI technology, including how it can help them and their teams, what tools are available, what tools would work for their business specifically, and how to successfully choose and implement these tools. 

A new era for AI

The UK Government’s focus on AI comes as The United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a landmark global resolution on AI, and the European Union (EU) detailed its AI Act, the first comprehensive legal framework on AI.

The Department for Science, Innovation & Technology launched the AI Opportunity Forum (AIOF) in January 2024 with the “clear mission to support the adoption of AI in the private sector”. 

Government events centering on AI follow the UK Government’s response to the AI Regulation White Paper consultation. In its response, the Government announced it was injecting £100 million to progress AI research and innovation and to support regulators in understanding the defining technology’s capabilities, risks and opportunities. 

According to the Be the Business G7 Productive Business Index, a mere 1% productivity improvement over five years would add £94 billion to the UK economy. Furthermore, £400 billion could enter the UK economy due to businesses adopting AI.

Senior government policymakers attended a roundtable in December 2023 to discuss findings from Tech Hub’s policy report. The report focuses on powering digital adoption for UK SMEs and finds that saving time is the main driver for businesses using the latest technologies. Faster processes and better customer connections can see tech-savvy leaders gain up to 3.5 weeks back every year, totalling a saving of 150 hours, simply by automating everyday tasks and processes. 

Using business process optimisation and automation, SMEs can save time and money. They can also improve SMEs’ ability to capture, manage and nurture leads, use existing tools to their full capabilities, and obtain transparent and accessible reporting. 

But figuring out how to achieve such improvements is the tough part. That’s where strategy-led and effective optimisation and automation come in. By focusing on understanding business processes, identifying where the cracks are in lost leads and inefficiencies, and pairing tech with teams, SMEs can optimise the adoption and use of digital tools.

SMEs need AI funding, education and access to experts

Despite the value of AI-led automation, over 53% of SMEs fail in their technology adoption journeys, a Lab Insights Report states. Leadership backing is therefore vital to spur widespread access, implementation and adoption of effective AI solutions.

Leaders need to urgently provide funding, educational platforms, and access to tools and experts to give SMEs a seat at the technological table and reap the benefits of AI’s business capabilities.  

Echoed by industry experts present, the key takeaway from recent Government AI events was that the UK Government needs to help SMEs with funding. As an SME, I know first-hand the challenges of entrepreneurship and utilising technology to its full capabilities when funding is unavailable. Digital adoption programmes like match fund programmes and funding for SMEs would certainly help clear the path for significant productivity changes.

SMEs also need support from leadership through educational platforms and access to diagnostic tools and experts. I’m passionate about helping businesses grow to their full potential and supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs. Educational resources and expert help are essential to helping SMEs understand their options and properly implement AI.

Build your tech foundation first, before AI

As AI technology continues to rapidly evolve, attention turns to how SMEs can harness the benefits of the tech and digital tools to achieve their professional goals. 

SMEs’ challenges in accessing, implementing, and effectively using tech are not limited to AI but digital tools, too. These are essential to support business health and propel growth. We need to help SMEs increase productivity by enabling the use of digital tools. SMEs need guidance and support with not just AI but AI combined with the adoption of digital tools.

Kelly Goss
Kelly Goss

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