Lack of AI strategy putting UK companies at risk, says Microsoft
UK AI strategy

Lack of AI strategy putting UK companies at risk, says Microsoft

Nearly half of business leaders in the UK believe that artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the country so quickly that their business model won’t exist by 2023. That’s according to a new Microsoft report, Maximising the AI Opportunity, conducted in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London, and YouGov.

The research surveyed 1,000 business leaders and 4,000 employees in the UK, and found that if companies act quickly to embrace it, the country has, “a unique opportunity to lead the world in its development and use of AI”.

However, while 41 percent of business leaders believe they will have to dramatically change the way they work within the next five years, more than half do not have an AI strategy in place to address those challenges.

Clare Barclay, chief operating officer of Microsoft UK, said: “AI represents a huge opportunity, but only if UK organisations embrace its application in the right way.

“AI is not about making UK businesses leaner, it’s about how we use the technology to make them stronger. In doing so, we can make our work more meaningful and boost UK competitiveness.”

Organisations that have already begun their AI journey are doing five percent better on factors like productivity, performance, and business outcomes than those that have not.

Michael Wignall, chief technology officer at Microsoft UK, added:

We’re just at the beginning of the AI journey. That five percent performance boost will start to accelerate, quickly.

Firms using AI were also found to be “more productive, have higher performance, and experience better business outcomes”, while deploying it in an ethical way increased the gap between AI users and non-users to nine percent.

However, just 18 percent of UK workers say they are actively learning new skills to help them keep up with future changes to their work caused by AI.

Augmenting human ingenuity

While Microsoft’s survey uncovered the benefits of AI, it also found a worrying division of opinion on the technology in many workplaces.

Fifty-nine percent of UK employees are open to experimenting with AI, while just over half believe using the technology to automate tasks can create time for more meaningful work – but 51 percent are not using it.

This is blamed on a lack of strategy and direction from leaders. Only 44 percent of employees trust their organisations to use AI responsibly, while just 26 percent say their organisation has a culture of transparency between leaders and employees.

Cindy Rose, chief executive of Microsoft UK, said: “How society, business, and people adapt to AI will become one of the most pressing considerations of this generation and the next. Only by applying AI in the right way can we unlock its extraordinary potential for good.

It is our firm belief at Microsoft that a human-centric approach can help organisations positively impact their businesses, employees and customers. Yet success tomorrow requires action today – organisations must act now to maximise the AI opportunity.

“Often, a good place to start the journey towards unlocking the power of AI is with asking questions. Questions like what are the business problems we want to solve and how can AI help? What are the opportunities we are missing? Is our data ready? Are our people ready? And, if not, how can we re-skill and re-train them so that technology augments their role rather than simply automates it?”

As Microsoft’s CTO Enterprise, Norm Judah explained: “AI is about augmenting human ingenuity. Whether you’re a seller, a marketer, a lawyer, or something else, AI will change the way you make decisions. It can help you navigate vast amounts of data and give you advice and recommendations about how to proceed. What you do with that advice is up to you.”

Internet of Business says

It’s clear that, contrary to many media stories, employees and business leaders in the UK are largely open to experimenting with AI in their working lives, seeing its potential to streamline bureaucracy, empower decision-making, and create new jobs and industries. There is a willingness to embrace the possibilities of AI while evolving job roles and operating practices.

Yet this ambition is rarely matched by the reality. As the report puts it, “Ambition is not the same as adoption.” Organisations require a clear roadmap for change, giving their workforces the tools and training to understand how, when, and why to incorporate AI into their jobs.

With this comes necessary discourse around the ethical implications of merging human and machine, both in terms of how this reshapes the jobs themselves and the dangers of AI opacity and bias.

The ideal company culture when it comes to AI adoption is one in which workers feel empowered to experiment with new approaches, fail fast, refine, and try again.

While the temptation is to start with the data you already have to hand, companies must begin with the business problems and question how AI might help solve them, and whether they already have the required data.

Do all this successfully and AI can help a company reap huge rewards, but a well thought-out strategy must come first.

Of course, funding plays a key part too when it comes to being able to experiment with emerging technology. Our recent report on what the UK’s latest budget means for AI looks at whether the government’s AI Sector Deal goes far enough.

The UK has a rich heritage in AI research and development, dating back to Alan Turing’s work during the Second World War, but both the government and the private sector have their work cut out if they are to maintain that reputation.