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Fastest-growing UK firms plan to ramp up use of AI to stay ahead of rivals

The fastest-growing companies in the UK are planning to use more artificial intelligence in the next 12 months to help them stay ahead of their rivals.

Bosses of firms enjoying double-digit growth said AI is important for spotting new business opportunities in their sector, developing new ideas and making decisions, according to research released by Microsoft.

However, the urgency to use more cutting-edge technology is not replicated in companies who are growing more slowly or not at all, with most saying they aim to adopt AI in the next three years.

Susan Etlinger​, an AI analyst with the Altimeter Group who partnered with Microsoft on the study, said: “What’s striking about the research is the difference between double-digit growth companies and those with lower growth. Double-digit growth companies are further along in their AI deployments, but also see a greater urgency in using AI. They are focused primarily on the coming year, while lower-growth companies are planning in more like a five-year increment. ​What this suggests is that the more you know about AI, the greater your sense of urgency.”

Graph showing results from AI Pulse research

Sixty percent of UK companies with double-digit growth intend to use more AI to improve decision making in the next 12 months. Only the US and Germany scored higher in this part of the survey, which focused on 800 leaders across Europe and America and their views regarding AI’s impact on leadership.

Just 29% of low or no-growth companies in the UK said the same, with 61.3% saying they wanted to do so in the next three years. Just 20% of high-growth companies said they wanted to wait this long before adopting more AI.

More than half of leaders at high-growth companies in the UK believe AI will “completely change” their role, with both groups of companies agreeing that the technology would free bosses up to motivate, inspire and connect with their employees.

Michel van der Bel, President of Microsoft EMEA, said: “As AI helps leaders tackle operational tasks more effectively, they can better shift their focus on empowering their people. This means trusting people to approach challenges in their own way and ensuring they are equipped to be at their best. In short, leaders can more effectively shift from being managers to mobilizers.”

Susan Etlinger​ quote

“Start small, but start with intention. This will help teams build trust, learn from feedback and build confidence. In a nutshell, this is what will help get your AI journey off with a strong start.”

While UK businesses are keen to unlock the potential of AI, managers also recognise there are challenges. Forty-six percent of survey respondents were undecided on whether AI would have a positive impact on their leadership, while 56% wanted more support to help them prepare for the introduction of the technology.

A further 53% said their biggest concern was promoting a work culture that allowed staff in the UK to thrive amid innovations such as AI – the highest among all the represented countries.

Heike Bruch, Professor and Director of the Institute for Leadership & Human Resources Management at the University of St Gallen, who also worked with Microsoft on the study, said: “Successful leaders use AI for operational tasks but also to become more effective leaders – in other words, drive growth, set the right priorities and free time for inspiring people. It is interesting to see leaders wanting to put more energy on engaging and inspiring people as AI becomes more prevalent. In this way, I actually think AI will make good leaders less busy and even more human.”