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COVID-19: 'Majority' of UK firms now looking to AI to bolster their business

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
The research also found that, 45% of businesses would implement AI technologies in the next 12 months. Photo: Getty
45% of businesses said they would implement AI technologies in the next 12 months. Photo: Getty

Artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace has long been a sensitive topic. Many people see it as robots taking over their jobs, while some firms remain sceptical about the technology due to the costs.

While COVID-19 saw global lockdowns introduced and work patterns change amid a shift to remote work, firms closed as revenues dropped and wreaked havoc on the travel and hospitality industries.

In the face of adversity, it forced business leaders to make “smart investments” on the spot to prevent their businesses from collapsing, which saw them “roll-out digital technologies” to keep the workflow going, while keeping their customers satisfied.

However, as the coronavirus crisis saw many people lose their jobs, or put on furlough it has brought about a change in attitude towards AI in UK business leaders, according to a study by Fountech.ai, published exclusively by Yahoo Finance.

Of the 430 respondents, 55% of UK companies have started exploring how AI could improve their product or service. The figure is highest among small and medium-sized enterprises, at 61% and 66% respectively.

The research also found that, 45% of businesses would implement AI technologies in the next 12 months.

Founder of Fountech.ai, Nikolas Kairinos, said: “Businesses’ curiosity about the potential of AI has grown notably over recent years. This has no doubt been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic: survival has emerged as the number one reason to invest in emerging technologies.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 rules could see 290,000 UK job losses and cost the economy £7bn

Recently, a rise in coronavirus cases has prompted the government to advise Brits to work from home if they can, as was customary during the height of the pandemic in April, May and June.

Kairinos said that the shift towards remote working has forced enterprises around the world to “re-examine their existing processes and find new ways of maintaining productivity in a virtual setting.”

“Companies are investing more aggressively in powerful cloud-computing technologies and sophisticated AI solutions as they continue to migrate their work and communications online,” he said.

“AI underpins many of the key digital solutions that enable firms to continue delivering services, maintaining customer trust and keeping a remote workforce connected.

“And ultimately, companies are looking for ways AI can save them money – to that end, the pandemic has accelerated the need for AI, and has also made businesses more receptive to solutions able to automate complex, time-consuming tasks,” he added.

The study also shows that only 16% of UK company leaders are aware of AI being used within their organisation at present. Alongside this, 53% admitted they have a very limited understanding of AI and how it can be used — 15% of businesses are confident that they have the skills needed internally to implement or take advantage of AI.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak admits unemployment will rise despite 'radical' job support scheme

Interestingly, 57% of UK firms with 1 to 9 employees (micro businesses), believe that AI is over-hyped and would not deliver much value to their business, while just 26% of companies with more than 250 employees, hold the same view.

Last week, the secretary for Business Alok Sharma, announced his support on Twitter after the UK and US signed an AI research and development (R&D) agreement.

The R&D agreement is meant to promote collaboration between the countries on AI development as well as recommending priorities for AI planning and programming, such as student and researcher collaboration — “to empower and enable current and future generations of workers.”