UK business increases adoption of AI but lags behind Europe

Guest Blog: Michael Conway, AI Partner, IBM Services, explores how COVID-19 accelerated demand but companies need to overcome the barriers to full scale AI adoption. #AIWeek2021

The COVID-19 pandemic delivered an abrupt shock to organisations across the UK. Business requirements changed and the need for artificial intelligence (AI) accelerated.

AI sits at the very heart of digital transformation. To understand the stumbling blocks, attitudes about AI and its use and gain insights into how they can be overcome, IBM commissioned an in-depth, study ‘Global AI Adoption Index 2021’, which included leaders from 500 UK companies.

The study found that more than a third (36 percent) of European organisations reported they had accelerated their rollout of AI as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, things were different in the UK with just 27 percent of UK IT professionals reporting their company had accelerated the rollout of AI in response to the virus. This sort of disparity could risk many UK enterprises losing out to their more tech-savvy neighbours during the bourgeoning post-pandemic economic recovery.

Changing the way industries operate

AI is already changing the way businesses operate today, from how they communicate with their customers via virtual assistants, to automating key workflows, and even managing network security. During the pandemic we have seen some great examples of AI adoption.

Our very own NHS innovated to handle the unprecedented flood of patient requests and adopted virtual assistant technology to improve access to authoritative advice about COVID-19 to both staff and the general public. The Royal Marsden launched Maisie to ensure key workers had immediate access to the latest COVID-19 HR related information and policies as well as updates on the hospital and evolving workplace guidance.

In financial services a great example is TSB seeing an urgent need to give customers immediate access to the measures the bank had introduced during the pandemic, so it launched a new TSB Smart Agent function on its website and mobile app. Since launch TSB Smart Agent has handled one million conversations with customers and provided important assistance throughout lockdown and now beyond.

With proven examples of success - what is holding other companies back from taking the plunge?

Overcoming barriers to AI adoption

The answer comes in four parts: a lack of related skills, the challenges of data complexity, issues around trust, and the perceived complexity of infusing AI throughout a business. For example, when asked how their company plans to invest in AI adoption over the next 12-months, 40 percent of IT professionals across UK organisations said in reskilling and workforce development, showing a clear commitment.

The increasing complexity of data is another significant roadblock for widespread adoption. However, this is one area the UK has an advantage, with 24 percent identifying increasing data complexity and the existence of siloed data as barriers to adoption, compared to 29 percent of European respondents.

The proliferation of data across the enterprise has resulted in six in ten UK IT professionals drawing from more than 20 different data sources to inform their AI; reducing these data complexities will be vital to make AI more accessible. This need for improved accessibility is confirmed by a resounding 82 percent of UK IT pros who believe it is preferable to run AI projects wherever the data resides.

What is clear, however, is that as more organisations move beyond experimentation to full-scale AI projects, they are recognising there’s more to successful implementations than simply having the right datasets, AI models and scalability. Trust in AI is a major hurdle. Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of European IT professionals think it is critically or very important to their business that they can trust the AI’s output to be fair, safe and reliable. Interestingly, the UK result was 76 percent, meaning trust needs to be the lens we look at everything through.



Michael Conway, AI Partner, IBM Services



You can read all insights from techUK's AI Week here


Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Associate Director, Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID, techUK

Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme. 

Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.

Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.    

Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.

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020 7331 2019

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