Manufacturing leads AI investment in UK

UK manufacturers are leading the way in automation uptake across key processes when compared with the national average, despite lingering caution over the technology's “potential for physical and financial upheaval."

More than 90% of firms in the manufacturing sector have adopted automated processes during the past year, viewing its implementation in key areas as a necessary long-term investment for sustained business.

This against a nationwide uptake of 87% and pockets of the UK where fewer numbers see automation as an opportunity, according to the latest research by business advisory firm BDO.

AI investment - Graphcore's Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) is set to revolutionise AI. It is designed for Machine Intelligence and delivers between 10x and 100x greater speed compared to today's hardware - image courtesy of Pixabay

While more and more businesses continue to view automation as a “pivotal area of development”, BDO’s head of technology and media, Tony Spillett, said all companies “no matter their size, sector or structure, must come to terms with the role it will play in our future and explore the opportunities it can bring”.

The report – titled, New Economy: Investing in Automation – found that the majority expect automation to be vital to their businesses and employees’ development in the coming year, and that well over 80% had already taken steps to automate fundamental processes throughout 2019.

One-in-five of the 200 finance heads BDO spoke to viewed investment in automation over the next five years as an important priority and in the case of manufacturers 9% of the total company spend was already earmarked for such assets.

However, BDO also found ONS (Office for National Statistics) data that said 22% of finance professionals viewed automation as a potential threat to their job security, while a similar number determined it would in fact be good for job creation providing new growth opportunities that would require a larger workforce to facilitate its development.

Around 40% of finance heads said they had begun investing in staff training for the technology to ensure company productivity levels remain high.

Other UK trends BDO uncovered about attitudes towards automation:

  • Business leaders in Scotland and the Midlands are most positive about automation, with 61% and 56% respectively seeing it as an opportunity, versus companies in the North West where only 35%.
  • Scotland has the highest number of chief financial officers (CFOs) ranking automation as the most important investment priority for 2020 (17%), followed by London (13%) and Yorkshire (12%)
  • Manufacturing has led the way in automation uptake with 93% of firms automating a key process in the past year, compared to a national average of 87%
  • Retailers and professional services firms are both investing 12% of company spend on automation, compared with manufacturers who are investing 9%
  • More than 40% of retail CFOs stated that automation is their most important investment opportunity over the next five years, compared with 34% of manufacturers

“What’s clear is that many companies are only just getting started and are taking an open-minded approach,” said Spillett. “It’s important to recognise that investing in automation can provide not just greater capabilities for the business as a whole, but greater opportunities for employees – with expanding skillsets and knowledge,” he added.

BDO’s report also found a third of UK businesses have already introduced artificial intelligence (AI) into their day-to-day operations, while a quarter of businesses make use of robotics.

By Rory Butler, Staff Journalist

*Images courtesy of Pixabay.