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UK lags in AI skills and AI project success

Global study by Microsoft shows that UK organisations have more artificial intelligence projects that deliver zero value than other countries

A global survey of 12,000 people run by Microsoft has found that the UK’s artificial intelligence (AI) maturity trails the global average.

The survey, published in Microsoft’s AI skills in the UK report, found that UK organisations are less likely to be classified as “AI pros” compared with the global average (15% versus 23%). The research also found that the UK had a higher proportion of projects that generated no value (29%) compared with the global average of 19%.

The study found that more than one-third (35%) of UK leaders believe there will be an AI skills gap in the next two years, and 28% think there already is one (compared with 24% of leaders globally).

According to Microsoft, only 17% of UK employees say they have been part of reskilling efforts – far less than the 38% globally. Also, only 32% of UK employees feel their workplace is doing enough to prepare them for AI,  compared with the global average of 42%.

Microsoft said the study indicates that UK organisations perform worse when it comes to corporate culture, including dimensions such as innovation, flexibility and training, hinting at a possible systemic problem in their approach to transformation.

“Our data shows that 76% of UK organisations that would be considered ‘AI pros’ have increased skills investment,” it said. “By contrast, 73% of UK ‘AI beginners’ have made no investment in building their skills pipeline, well above the global average (58%).”

Microsoft urged organisations that are looking to future-proof their workforces in the age of AI to begin by examining their culture.

Simon Lambert, chief learning officer for Microsoft UK, said: “The most 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 technology alone will not be enough.

“At Microsoft, we’re on this journey, just like everyone else, not least because the best learners make the best teachers. The larger point, though, is not to be intimidated by the technology. Instead, get excited, develop your curiosity and let’s keep learning from one another.”

Read more about reskilling for AI

According to Microsoft, the study gives a clear warning that UK organisations need to address AI readiness, or risk missing out on potential performance gains of 11.5% – a gap that Microsoft believes will only widen in an increasingly AI-powered world. 

In collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2019, Microsoft created a framework for developing a holistic AI strategy. “We believe that organisations best positioned for success are those in which three core dimensions of AI usage – strategy, performance and democratisation – are all present and symbiotic,” Microsoft said in the report.

In terms of strategy, Microsoft recommended that organisations assess how they can support customers better than rival businesses. From a performance perspective, it said, what organisations do is just as important as how they do it.

Microsoft’s final dimension of AI – democratisation – is focused on broadening access to the benefits of AI to all, including the skills needed to be successful.

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