02 October 2019 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
UK organisations risk falling behind global competitors unless they act now to accelerate their use of AI technology, according to a report unveiled at the Microsoft UK Decoded event in London this week.
It indicates that organisations currently using AI are now outperforming those that are not by 11.5 per cent - "a boost that, in the face of unprecedented economic and political uncertainty, UK businesses can ill-afford to pass up".
Despite this opportunity, the report, conducted in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London, suggests that less than a quarter of UK organisations (24 per cent) have an AI strategy in place.
Three-quarters (74 per cent) of the UK's business leaders doubt the nation has the socio-economic structures in place to lead in AI on the global stage. This puts in doubt the UK's ability to compete with countries such as the United States and China, which are implementing AI at pace, on a greater scale.
Cindy Rose, CEO, Microsoft UK, said: "The results are clear. UK businesses and public sector organisations that forgo or delay implementing AI solutions risk missing the boat on driving down costs, increasing their competitive advantage and empowering their workers."
Rose added: "Given this moment, where both UK leadership and competitiveness on the global stage is more vital than ever, there is no doubt that fully embracing AI-led digital transformation is a critical success factor for UK businesses, government and society."
The study, conducted by YouGov, focuses on more than 1,000 business leaders and 4,000 employees, and includes interviews with leading industry experts from organisations including M&S, NatWest, Renault F1 Team, Lloyds Banking Group and the NHS.
In addition to the doubt that the UK is in a place to capitalise on the opportunities that AI presents, there is also a lack of understanding among UK business leaders about how to scale their use of AI effectively and ethically. While more than a third (38 per cent) want their organisation to be seen as leaders in AI innovation, just 34 per cent said they know how to evaluate the business benefits of their AI investments. Similarly, only 21 per cent of UK leaders have completed AI training, while more than half (57 per cent) admitted that they don't know how to intervene when AI takes the wrong course of action.
As well as stifling their own growth, this gap between intention and knowledge among leadership is making it increasingly difficult for UK organisations to gain a competitive edge over more AI-advanced rivals abroad.
Lord Clement-Jones, chairman of the House of Lords' Select Committee on AI, said: "There is absolutely no excuse for anybody in business, at whatever age, for not reinventing themselves in terms of really understanding how AI works."
The report also uncovers a pressing need to focus on the cultural transformation required to fully harness AI's potential. Although more than half of UK organisations (56 per cent) are using the technology, 96 per cent of employees said their boss had never consulted them about its introduction. Meanwhile, 83 per cent of leaders claimed not to have been asked by staff about AI.
Download the full report here.