“The UK has a proud history of AI research and development, but when it comes to implementation, we are starting to lag behind the US and China,” said Clare Barclay, Microsoft UK’s Chief Operating Officer.
Microsoft’s recent report—Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI—detailed the current state of AI in the UK and why it’s about time for the UK to leverage on AI.
The study showed that businesses which have been using AI perform 11.5% better than those which do not. According to the study, AI made businesses more productive, showed higher profitability, and produced better business results.
However, the report showed that very few UK firms actually utilise AI. Only 34% of UK business leaders and 20% of employees said they knew the benefits of investing in AI. What’s more worrisome is that only 26% of business leaders believed that the country has the necessary socio-economic structures to become a global leader in AI.
Barclay adds, “Political and economic uncertainty can understandably breed caution but in today’s climate, it actually needs to be the catalyst for greater, faster change. It is time for UK organisations across sectors to focus on innovation and in leading the world on AI.”
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Aside from this, the most notable discovery from the research would be the differing perceptions between UK business leaders and employees regarding AI.
In the study, 66% of leaders from AI-advanced firms say that they support implementing AI, while 76% claim that they fully understand the AI skills employees need. However, only 11% of employees say they were trained to use AI in their job, while an overwhelming 96% say management has never talked to them about AI.
All the information presented in the research points to the increasing demand for AI skills in UK firms. However, growing the artificial intelligence in the UK is not easy. Research and advisory firm Gartner reports that 56% of IT and business professionals identify the lack of relevant digital skills as a major obstacle in implementing AI.
“Finding the right staff skills is a major concern whenever advanced technologies are involved,” said Jim Hare, Gartner’s research vice president.
To fill in the needed tech staff, many UK firms opt to hire offshore developers or tech professionals. This does not only fill in the gap, but it is also an effective and affordable method for businesses. However, this is just one of the solutions to solve the tech talent shortage.
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Hare adds “The rising number of AI projects means that organisations may need to reorganise internally to make sure that AI projects are properly staffed and funded. It is a best practice to establish an AI Center of Excellence to distribute skills, obtain funding, set priorities, and share best practices in the best possible way.”
For UK firms to become successful through AI, this would mean two things. First, the UK workforce, especially the developers, must start working or improving their AI skills. Second, businesses must start adopting AI and training their workforce to stay globally competitive.
Barclay’s advice is, “The successful organisations will be the ones that transform both technically and culturally, equipping their people with the skills and knowledge to become the best competitive asset they have. Human ingenuity is what will make the difference – AI alone isn’t enough.”
Fortunately, Microsoft UK CEO, Cindy Rose, announced at the recent Future Decoded event that Microsoft will be supporting the country’s tech sector.
While it’s best for the UK to leverage on AI as quickly as possible, the government’s lack of a clear tech strategy, as well as the ongoing challenges from Brexit, means that the future of the UK tech sector is still unpredictable.
Nonetheless, Rose remains positive in her keynote speech.
“We remain deeply optimistic that the UK can build on its position as a global technology leader, a location for businesses to start up and grow, and can continue to be a competitive force on the global stage in the age of artificial intelligence.”
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