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UK lagging in post-Covid AI-driven business recovery

Senior IT decision-makers across Europe see artificial intelligence adoption accelerating, but the UK is in the slow lane

A survey of senior UK and European IT chiefs, conducted by Morning Consult for IBM’s Global AI adoption index 2021, has found that deployments of artificial acceleration (AI) are accelerating.

The study, based on a survey of 2,500 senior decision-makers from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, found that one-third (36%) reported that their companies had accelerated their roll-out of AI as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, only 27% of UK IT professionals reported that their company had accelerated the roll-out of AI in response to the virus.

Significantly, 38% of the IT decision-makers from the UK who took part in the survey said their employer had made no change to their adoption of the technology as a response to the global health crisis, compared with a European average of 33%. 

However, there is general recognition among IT decision-makers that AI has a role to play in supporting organisations as they plot a path through post-pandemic business recovery. Many see AI as a way to enhance competitiveness and streamline productivity through the use of automation tools.

The study reported that automating processes to empower higher-value work was the single biggest reason for the adoption of AI across Europe – picked by 43% of the study group. The numbers for the UK were lower, with 35% of UK IT decision-makers selecting it as a reason to invest in AI.

Jean Philippe Desbiolles, global vice-president, data and AI at IBM, said 2021 will deliver a real AI return on investment for businesses. “We are at a juncture point,” he said. “AI deployment is now here and there is clear acceleration. Across Europe and the UK, the study found that 44% of organisations that have run AI pilots plan to deploy AI.”

However, the increasing complexity of data is a significant roadblock for widespread adoption. In the survey, almost a quarter (24%) of UK IT decision-makers identified increasing data complexity and the existence of siloed data as barriers to adoption, compared with 29% of the European IT decision-makers. 

The study also found that the proliferation of data across the enterprise has resulted in six out of 10 UK IT professionals drawing from more than 20 different data sources to inform their AI.

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There is general consensus among the survey respondents that there is a lack of expertise in AI. One-third (33%) of the IT decision-makers surveyed said their organisations planned to upskill their workforce. There is also growing interest in off-the-shelf AI to help organisations address the skills gap and overcome the technical challenges of infusing AI into business processes. 

Desbiolles said: “From my experience, the focus has been to demonstrate some real AI use cases. This has driven the market, but for the first time, I can see that the market now wants business AI off the shelf.”

He added that IBM’s customers and prospects wanted to see the business impact of AI more than ever, and were moving beyond the experimental phase of AI to production deployments that generate business value.

“As an industry, this is where we need to adapt to deliver platforms, tools and also the right business applications,” he said.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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