Over half of SME owners understand AI but are hesitant to adopt it

Survey reveals that 55% of SME owners understand what AI can do, but the majority still feels nervous about integrating it into their business operations.

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Research indicates that SME owners have a confident understanding of artificial intelligence, but that barriers continue to hinder its widespread adoption.

The results published by iwoca, one of Europe’s largest small business leaders, unveiled that 55% of SME owners understand AI, with 27% revealing they use AI across their businesses.

SME owners are three times more likely to think AI is a positive, rather than negative, development for their business, and 20% predict the technology could save their business up to 10 hours per week.

Despite this overwhelmingly positive outlook on AI, hesitation continues to bog down SME owners’ more use of AI-led automations and machine learning.

AI in the workplace – friend or foe?

According to the iwoca survey, over half of small business leaders feel nervous about using AI in their company. Some three in ten even believe AI could ruin their business model.

The hesitation that prevents SMEs from adopting AI is multi-faceted. Of those surveyed by iwoca, 41% said AI is not relevant to their business; 18% think they lack the technical expertise to implement it; 17% complain the cost is too high, and a further 17% are concerned about algorithmic bias.

This reticence towards AI is present outside of boardrooms. According to a Salesforce survey, only one in ten global workers have in-demand AI skills despite 25% ranking AI proficiency in the top three most important digital skills to have.

“Defining AI’s applications for your business and identifying specific areas for its use are key to demystifying it,” explains Mark Di-Toro, Director at iwoca. “The overarching concept of AI can seem daunting, but – if used properly – we’ve seen that the technology can drive practical benefits, saving time and money.”

Embracing the changes to come

Understanding how to use AI will be key to minimising the disruption the technology could cause – whether that is changing the nature of how a job is approached, or making certain occupations redundant altogether.

In the view of 64% of HR managers, AI is changing key in-demand skills. A further 85% are currently planning some kind of Learning & Development investment to future-proof their employees for the further spread of AI.

“AI means there’s a new interesting way of differentiating professionals now and it comes from the adaptability to embrace change and being creative and being able to use AI to innovate the business,” reflects Ludmila Milla, co-founder of Learning & Development platform UJJI.

Whether AI is seen as a threat or a productivity tool will depend on how prepared SME owners are for the technology.

Setting the tone for AI’s adoption

The doubt SME owners have towards AI is arising in the midst of a critical policy juncture.

The UK has just hosted a high profile AI Safety Summit to understand the risks posed by frontier AI, and the regulations that should be enforced to control how the technology evolves.

Clear regulations could help cure part of the hesitation SME owners have expressed. In fact, 61% want guidelines to be established for AI’s safe use.

To prepare the next generation, the government has also announced the launch of 800 scholarships worth £8m to equip eligible students with practical AI and data science skills.

Experts note these initiatives will take time to take effect, therefore, taking a proactive approach to learning & development to future-proof workplaces will help SMEs ride the digital transformation wave rather than being wiped out by it.

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Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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