New research from Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), conducted in partnership with YouGov, reveals 59 per cent of SMEs have invested or plan to invest in AI in the next five years (25 per cent and 34 per cent respectively), with younger business leaders owners more likely to report investment or intent to invest (Gen Z and millennials: 75 per cent compared to Gen X: 55 per cent and baby boomers or older: 45 per cent).

Early investments are beginning to reap rewards, with the research revealing that 87 per cent of those who have introduced AI to their business operations report cost and time savings.

More than half (56 per cent) of SMEs agree that investing in AI is important to achieve business growth. But despite the anticipated benefits, 80 per cent also cite barriers or challenges faced by their business to start using or further invest in AI.

Concerns around data security such as data breaches (33 per cent), a lack of comprehension and knowledge about AI (28 per cent) and limited financial resources (26 per cent) were among the main barriers and challenges.

Rebecca Warren, CBA’s Executive General Manager Small Business Banking, said while small businesses are facing a challenging environment, AI is presenting new opportunities for businesses of all size and sectors.

“In response to market challenges, Australian SMEs are innovating and investing in new technologies with many already seeing the real-time benefits of integrating AI into their operations to help improve productivity and profitability, as well as enhance their competitive edge,” Ms Warren said.

“We know that AI itself is rapidly advancing, with its capabilities growing and expanding exponentially. There is also a need to provide more education and insights to help small business owners and workers understand how AI applies to them and how it can get their business working smarter and faster.

“At CBA, AI is helping us protect our customers from scams, detect abuse in transaction descriptions and make it easier for our teams to navigate complex customer queries.”  

While the emergence of AI is widely recognised as critical technology shaping the way we work, there is a misconception that it only stands to benefit those in certain industries.

Challenging this theory, CBA’s research shows that those working in professional services are more likely than those working in construction and trade to cite a lack of comprehension and knowledge about AI, and they’re also less familiar with which platforms are most appropriate to use (35 per cent compared to 17 per cent).

The three most common reasons driving the demand for AI are improving efficiency/productivity (66 per cent), spending less time on manual/routine activities and more time on value-adding activities (46 per cent) and improving profitability (38 per cent).

Further demonstrating the entrepreneurial mindset of Australian SMEs, the most common areas many have begun trialling AI is for content creation and editing (48 per cent), idea generation (39 per cent) and automation of routine activities (33 per cent).

With 57 per cent stating they would sign up and make use of AI training programs and tools if they had access to them, CBA will be launching a new resource designed to help small businesses fast track their AI capabilities and unlock new areas of growth to achieve their business goals. 

Source: Company Press Release