Artificial Intelligence
UK SMEs embrace AI but seek clarity on legislation, study reveals. DADO RUVIC/Reuters

Gong, a revenue intelligence platform, has released a new study conducted among 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) business executives revealing how they feel about the state of artificial intelligence (AI) in business and how they can better understand its practices. The study also revealed what they expect to see from government legislation. The research findings showed that despite a lack of legislative framework, UK SMEs have already implemented AI technologies into their operations.

The poll, which was commissioned by Gong and executed by Censuswide, indicated that the majority of British enterprises (82%) are ready to employ more AI technology, with more than half (65%) concerned that excessive regulation may stifle competitiveness. This is significant since the consultation period for the United Kingdom's AI white paper ends on June 21, 2023.

Given the changing business scene and economic uncertainties, leaders face a slew of difficulties, making technology a critical tool for problem-solving. According to the poll, a third of organisations (33%) are now struggling with sales growth, while other major problems include expense management or reduction (40%) and talent acquisition (37%).

The majority of businesses in the UK, 89 per cent, are already employing AI technology, with more than a quarter (28%) using it to boost sales. A third (33%) and a quarter (28%) used it to improve marketing and customer service respectively. As leaders struggle to realise AI's promise, 30 per cent of those polled believe AI adoption is crucial for their firms' survival, while 40 per cent believe it is critical for their company's future.

Lesley Ronaldson, EMEA Senior Director at Gong, noted that AI technology not only impacts a business's profitability but also makes employees more efficient and effective at what they do. According to her, because non-selling activities use 77 per cent of a seller's time, it's no wonder that the primary incentive for using AI (46%) was to increase productivity. With employee burnout high on many leaders' agendas, another major incentive was to relieve pressure on sellers, she added.

DIGIT, a Scottish technology media & events company emphasised that AI legislation remains a major problem globally, as there are differing views on how to handle the quickly evolving technology. Regulators are still working to bridge knowledge gaps in the sector, and many are concerned about the possible risks of AI rather than the potential gains.

The technology media & event company stated that the EU has recently agreed on a revolutionary AI regulatory legislation, which will be discussed with member countries before being officially adopted. The act would restrict certain uses of AI in law enforcement and classify specific applications of the technology as 'high risk', such as its usage in social media algorithms and recruitment tactics.

In the United Kingdom, lawmakers continue to debate putting the brakes on innovation in order for regulation to keep up. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is poised to hold an international AI summit in the autumn, all while presenting the country as an AI heavyweight.

Despite the government's releasing a statement regarding this, according to Gong's poll, more than half of SMEs (52%) are still looking for clarification on laws and legislation, as well as regulatory protection (47%) in their AI endeavours.

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government's Minister for Small Business, Trade, and Innovation, has previously expressed his worries about the UK government's "hands-off" approach to AI legislation, citing the existing non-statutory regulatory approach. Despite these regulatory concerns, 65 per cent of SMEs polled feel that rigorously restricting how and when businesses utilise AI will limit British enterprises' competitiveness.

Ronaldson added that businesses face a significant challenge in boosting sales in a hybrid workforce and a declining economy that no longer supports traditional sales tactics. AI offers enormous potential for the future of sales across industries, he said

According to him, maintaining a competitive advantage is a major motivator for businesses looking to incorporate AI into their present models. "It therefore should be a consideration for the UK government as they endeavour to assert the UK as a science and technology superpower by 2030," he further added.