How Digital Maturity is Set to Accelerate UK SME Growth
AI is not for the future, it’s here and now, so embrace it to make your company’s future as amazing as it should be.
A small British financial services firm wants to scale its operations. It’s doing so by automating 25% of its most important workflows via a combination of robotic process automation, augmented with AI techniques including natural language processing, voice to text transcribing, and natural language generation.
The vision: allow the staff to focus on the more complex tasks which need significant cognitive and decision-making capabilities, so that more clients receive a faster service, resulting in a higher level of new business generation. Here’s another: a UK based retail business is using advanced data analytics and machine learning to develop versions of its products that are better aligned with changing customer requirements. And the vision here is similar: to better respond to new trends and influences and so capture a larger market share than would have been possible otherwise.
Why am I telling you these interesting use cases? Because they are real companies, are C-Suites I am working with now and are excellent examples of a promising trend I am seeing: UK SMEs finally shaking off their reluctance to really engage with AI and advanced tech, and be as ambitious as larger organisations have been about transforming themselves through boldly embracing the potential of information technology.
And, I don’t just mean fintech or biotech startups, as amazing and welcome as they are. I’m talking about the vast armada of 100-plus employee companies out there that do everyday things like sell physical items, or bash metal or provide professional services at a local level, and who are, of course, the mainstay of our GDP: the Federation of Small Businesses estimates that the 5.8 million small businesses in the UK make up 99.3% of the entire private sector, with a combined turnover of £2.3 trillion.
These firms only usually do things with technology with a VAR or use Microsoft Office, but don’t really think about how automation or chatbots could be that useful to them. But times are changing. COVID didn’t just open big firms’ eyes up to the potential of digital to streamline or keep their businesses open; smaller enterprises have woken up to smell the coffee, too.
Moving toward Digital Maturity
I have coined a phrase for this—Digital Maturity. Companies are open to conversations with me now in a way I have never seen before around new ways to help with customer engagement or customer support, or rationalising/improving the back office. Smart systems don’t have to be robots in the manufacturing production line; other parts of the business activity can benefit as well. And of course, that uplift doesn’t have to be AI, but can be cloud, voice, OCR and scanning of documents so you go paperless, moving to 5G or looking at the potential of IoT, a whole host of things.
Clearly, there’s a roadmap here—a natural progression and a journey of adoption. Now, Wisdom Works is opening its doors to help as many UK SMEs as we can, achieve Digital Maturity. There’s two parts to this: there’s paper-based work, which is the ‘thinking’ and the ‘strategy’ and how you can use technology and exploring the art of the possible, and then there’s the ‘practical’ doing it, the delivery of capability.
Why is an AI guy like me interested in doing this? I see this as fun and rewarding in its own right, but as AI supporters we need to recognise that in order to get to AI, smaller organisations will need to get some of those foundation things done first. By helping businesses to implement these technologies in a way that navigates the challenges that will inevitably arise, because we’ve got experience in doing this many times before, also means that downstream a conversation about taking the next step makes perfect logical sense.
I also am absolutely convinced that these people will want AI further down the line, and I’ll tell you why. Lots of these conventional technologies are really just about cutting cost and reducing inefficiency, which you absolutely need as a commercial enterprise.
But they aren’t really game changers, which is what AI is: just doing the same thing better is okay, and helps make your business more efficient. But coming up with new ideas and revenue streams will set you apart from your competitors. And so, once an SME is working at digital speed and scale, why not take the leap into innovation and do something completely new no-one else is, via the power of Artificial Intelligence?
NOW is the time to invest in technology
I speak to many small business founders and CEOs who suspect AI could help them, but very few have dipped their toes in the water yet, for various reasons. That’s the market I want to reach out to and encourage — by telling them that you’re in safe hands and we know how to do this. Digital Maturity is being able to use technology in a very agile way to adapt to new circumstances, after all—to be able to pivot your business, react to new situations and to be able to grow in the boom times that we are confident will follow when the pandemic ends.
So my message to those 5.8 million great British businesses out there is that NOW is the time to invest in the best technology to allow you to grow faster during the next economic cycle.
AI is not for the future, it’s here and now, so embrace it to make your company’s future as amazing as it should be. And I can’t think of a better contribution to all our futures I can make right now.
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