Manufacturing and Engineering SMEs undecided about impact of artificial intelligence

Despite the significant rise in the profile of artificial intelligence (AI), the UK’s Manufacturing and Engineering SMEs are largely undecided about the impact it will have on their business, sector and jobs. The findings are taken from the latest independent research from Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing. 

Seven in 10 of respondents are of the view that AI will have a bearing on their business, but are undecided about the scale, with 25% (UK average: 20%) thinking it will have a large impact compared to just 6% (UK average: 9%) who say it won’t have a measurable impact. 

Q: How much of an impact, if any at all, do you think the increasing presence of artificial intelligence will have on your business?

Business owners are split about whether to incorporate AI into their business processes, with 47% (UK average: 41%) saying they will against 36% (UK average: 40%) who have no intention of doing so. The remaining 17% (UK average: 19%) haven’t yet made up their minds. 

The key question about potential job losses brought about by AI also divided the crowd, with 42% (UK average: 42%) saying AI will lead to large-scale job losses in their sector; 43% (UK average: 43%) are of the opposite view while 15% (UK average: 15%) are unsure.

While many see AI as a potential threat, more of the UK’s Manufacturing and Engineering SME business owners see the technology as something that will present opportunities for growth and employment in their sector than those who do not.

The business areas (in order) most at risk from Artificial Intelligence according to respondents are: 

1. Customer service

2.  Administration

3. Marketing

4. Operations

5. Accounting

6.  HR

7. Sales

8.  Legal

Our view

Matt Roper, CEO of Close Brothers’ Commercial Business, said: “Artificial Intelligence already impacts us on a daily basis in hundreds of ways, from route mapping to using chatbots to answer questions, and it’s only likely to become more prominent in the coming years.”

“Our research is telling us a number of things. Firstly, there’s an understandable lack of consensus about AI’s current and potential impact, largely because it’s only gained traction in the public imagination fairly recently. There’s also no agreed definition of what AI actually is.

“Secondly, there’s a recognition that it could present opportunities for firms to use AI to their advantage, particularly in those sectors that are more reliant on digital innovation.

“And lastly, firms aren’t yet sure quite how to incorporate AI into their business processes.”

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