Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director Western Europe and MEMA, Amelia, explores how the government can make the most of its Help to Grow scheme to boost entrepreneurship and create the next generation of technology leaders
Small businesses have been some of the worst affected throughout the pandemic, without the same reserves as some larger players. That’s why the government’s Help to Grow scheme is such an important initiative to help smaller businesses look at how they can better use technology to optimise operations and services, as well as bring new and innovative ideas to the market. In addition to supporting skills development, the Digital route will provide eligible businesses up to £5,000 to secure a 50% discount on productivity-enhancing software.
Where to prioritise funding
With Help to Grow: Digital, the Government is prioritising discounts on technology which will help businesses “build customer relationships and increase sales, make the most of selling online and manage their accounts and finances digitally.” There is no doubt that automation and Artificial Intelligence-powered (AI) technologies must play a key role here. The Government previously published estimations that by 2035 AI could add an additional £630bn to the UK economy, in turn increasing the annual growth rate of GVA from 2.5% to 3.9%.
Not all AI software is equal
But for many small businesses, expensive enterprise packages are often not an option. The high upfront investment and requirements for in-demand and expensive AI or automation expertise means that they are often unsuitable for many small businesses. Instead, there must be a focus on productivity-driving technologies that are easy, accessible and affordable, such as low code/no-code solutions, which can be implemented and managed by employees with minimal technical expertise. This is especially important given the current skills shortage. As the World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs report highlights, even large companies are struggling to hire for Data Analysts and Scientists, AI and Machine Learning Specialists as well as Software and Application Developers. Small businesses, unless a technology company themselves, are often cost-out of these in-demand skills and, as a result, the important productivity benefits they offer.
How low code/no-code AI platforms offer a viable solution
With small businesses accounting for 99.3% of the UK total business population, it’s important that the government’s Help to Grow scheme helps bridge the AI-divide between large and small enterprises. Low code/no-code platforms offer a viable solution to this challenge, providing non-tech-savvy workers with guided instructions to easily and quickly design, deploy and implement conversational AI agents that can support day-to-day tasks, from customer service through to finance management.
These types of solutions mean that small businesses can easily automate time-intensive administrative processes, driving productivity and allowing their employees to focus their time, resource and attention on value-add projects to grow the business. In IT, for example, you can easily deploy an IT Help Desk Engineer, converging front- and back-office functions to automate IT requests including password resets and Wi-Fi access. Or externally, you can design a 24/7 call centre agent that is trained in company protocol to respond to customer enquiries round-the-clock and escalate only the tricky or emotionally sensitive queries to human customer service agents to manage.
This democratised approach to implementing AI will increase the velocity for use-case development while driving greater adoption to accelerate the time-to-value of AI within small businesses. It will also empower employees to identify and develop AI use cases for their specific needs, rather than retrofitting an enterprise solution to a small business challenge.
Ushering in a new wave of entrepreneurship and creativity
The past year has been a challenging one for many small businesses in the UK and the government is right to invest now to support them in both securing their immediate future and helping them future-proof their organisation with productivity-saving AI solutions.
Low code/no-code platforms that will help lower the technical barrier to entry to AI will be transformative for the UK small business community. Not only will driving greater productivity help them become more competition amongst their peers on the international market, but it will also empower them to compete on the same technological level as their larger counterparts, punching above their weight in areas like employee and customer experience.