The ‘humans versus robots’ growth debate rages on, but new research suggests that SMEs and AI go hand-in-hand as smaller businesses reveal a more open and optimistic outlook towards artificial intelligence.
This according to a report based on responses from 1,000 board level and senior business decision makers and over 1,000 workers in 13 sectors across the UK, commissioned by Adecco.
The research finds that larger companies, employing more than 5,000 staff, are almost twice as sceptical about the business impact that AI can have compared to smaller companies that employ 250 people or less. Additionally, 9 per cent of the former believe its impact won’t be significant, compared to just 5 per cent of SMEs.
“Investment in technologies such as automation will help to make our economy more competitive, enable us to build on our world-leading reputation in cutting-edge sectors, and allow us to establish better ways of doing business. Smaller companies seem to realise this and as a result, have a huge opportunity to benefit,” Adecco Group UK and Ireland’s Alex Fleming says.
Ollie Gaymond, Engineering vice president, Android Wear and Google Fit credits this to the pervasiveness of technology in daily life. “We are at a point now where connectivity and technology is expected of our products and of our lives,” he tells GrowthBusiness at a panel event earlier this year.
“Ask your parents 15 to 20 years ago how many electric products they had and could probably count them on one hand. They would describe in detail their new washing machine that was plugged in with a new eco spin. Now I think there are perhaps over 30 electric devices in each of the rooms in my house.”
For Gaymond, the impact of embracing technology wholeheartedly will trickle into the job market. “I think the jobs market will transform with the time. You look at Youtube and how an entire jobs sector was created for content which would have been exclusive for the chosen few. There are jobs that are entirely based on creating Youtube content which we never had before and that is incredible.”
When looking at larger companies, eight in ten decision makers believe that computers will make jobs easier within the next five to ten years, a percentage that rises to 89 per cent amongst their smaller counterparts. Similarly, while two in three smaller companies believe that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the past decade, only 58 per cent of larger companies believe this to be true.
According to Adecco’s Fleming, fearlessness is often engrained into the small business mentality, and they can be quick to recognise and act on change. “As a result, smaller companies are well placed to drive awareness about the positive opportunities that automation can generate, both amongst employees and with other organisations. By demonstrating the benefits of automation, including its ability to improve working lives, they can hopefully lessen the fear that exists amongst some people for the future.”
Beyond automation and the customer service and user interface angle of using chat bots, new technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) could give SMEs an edge over the competition. Steve Dan, founder and CEO of tech start-up, Amplified Robot, says that VR and AR technology has been coming along leaps and bounds in recent years, which could suggest a huge improvement in the next five years. “There are estimates that the market will be valued at £160 billion by 2025, so people interested in investment should look there,” he says. “I personally believe that people will spend their lives in VR, its a great place to spend your life! It’s interesting that people want to be taken away from their surroundings and find something new, VR gives them that chance.”
“I am optimistic about the potential for tech in the future and for businesses as a whole. Anything we do is instantly and globally available so, as far as I’m concerned, by 2030, I think we will be ok. My biggest concern is with this ageing society we have. It takes 15 years to train doctors and surgeons, but because we live longer, people require more maintenance and surgery. There is a huge gap between demand and supply and I think companies that are looking at managing that are going to be successful.”
For Android Wear and Google Fit expert, Gaymond, staying competitive involves exposure. It’s a big part of how you can absorb what the market wants, and the more SMEs put themselves out there with new ideas, and experience other peoples innovations, the better their own product will be.
“I spent time working closely with Google on their product Google Wave a few years ago. We trialled and it seemed like a great new emailing system that would really take off. It didn’t, we canned it and it was a total disaster. However, the tech we used in it then went on to boost other products like Google Drive and our search algorithms, It is good to try things and see what sticks.”
It’s the entrepreneurial spirit of trial and error that these experts credit as the reason for this optimism towards new technologies; one that can help UK SMEs stand in good stead as AI, VR and AR mature.