UK business tech investment expected to leap by 2024

UK business investment in new technologies such as quantum computing, blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies, and artificial intelligence (AI) is set to jump in the next five years, according to the CBI and Accenture Tech Tracker survey.

The proportion of firms seeking to invest in quantum computing is set to nearly triple (from 11% today to 32% in five years). Though still in its research phase it has the potential to speed up complex calculations – doing in just a few minutes what a computer would take thousands of years to do.

In addition, the number of business respondents starting to invest in blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies will double from 16% today to 35%. A third (32%) of respondents are also set to begin investing in artificial intelligence (AI).

Positively, two-fifths (41%) of respondents are supportive of the regulatory environment that underpins technology investment. However, a slight majority of businesses surveyed are deeply concerned about continued political instability in the UK. Just over half (51%) report that the country’s political environment is stifling innovation and undermining investment decisions.

Felicity Burch, CBI Director of Digital and Innovation, said: “AI, blockchain and quantum computing are all next on the investment horizon. These technologies will be used not only to improve customer experience and reduce costs, but open up new frontiers of innovation, from drug discoveries to drone deliveries. As we move from research to reality, investment in quantum computing is set to leap threefold, and could make possible experiments that are currently too costly and impractical.

“Ensuring data is secure, and that the teams developing it reflect modern society is firmly on the public radar, and it’s encouraging to see firms prioritising this. But with most firms surveyed planning to use AI in the next few years, businesses must do more to address unfair bias in data – this is one area where businesses will need to step up.

“While the UK’s regulatory framework is a strength, ongoing political uncertainty risks stifling innovation and undermining business investment in technology, jeopardising investments that could be worth billions of pounds. If firms are to continue developing the technology behind quantum computing, robotics and AI in the UK – ending political instability will go a long way to unlocking investment.”

Businesses see these technologies as a way to get a step ahead of the competition. When asked to rank six reasons for technology investment (from one to six, with one being the most important), firms ranked growing their competitive advantage as the most important reason (with an average rank of 2.2) followed by boosting productivity (average rank of 2.7).

Companies also recognise that, with the increasing use of personal data, building trust with both the public and employees will be crucial. Over three fifths (62%) of firms surveyed have invested in privacy and security over the last year and over two fifths (44%) have taken action to boost diversity and inclusion in the teams developing the technology over the last year.

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