Automation and AI top tech priorities for UK SMEs in 2024

Automation, AI, and e-commerce have emerged as the leading technological priorities for the UK's 1.4 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2024, with a projected investment of £60.3 billion in new technology, as per a recent report by Beaming, a business internet service provider.

Drawing on a study of UK business leaders completed by research consultancy Censuswide, Beaming’s report, Navigating the Tech Landscape: SME IT Adoption & Investment Plans for 2024, reveals that:

  • Almost half (44%) of SMEs plan to invest £2.6 billion in automation to streamline tasks and enhance efficiency during 2024. Most SMEs investing in automation in 2024 have already adopted it and will expand their use this year, although one in five (19%) will embrace it for the first time. Automation could be used by 64% of SMEs by the end of this year.
  • Over half (58%) of SMEs plan to use AI within their businesses in 2024, up from 40% in 2023. Between them, SMEs will invest at least £1.8 billion in AI this year, led by finance, IT and manufacturing businesses.
  • E-commerce will also enjoy widespread investment among SMEs in 2024, with the proportion selling online increasing from less than half (44%) in 2023 to almost two-thirds (62%) this year. Beaming estimates that SMEs will spend £2.7 billion on e-commerce capabilities in 2024.
  • The most crucial technology goal for SMEs, cited by over a third (35%) of SME leaders, is to improve efficiency and productivity. Improving the accessibility of IT systems and boosting team communication and collaboration were also goals for at least 30% of SMEs.
  • Beaming’s research indicates that businesses in Newcastle upon Tyne lead the UK in adopting new technology. Empowered by solid levels of fibre connectivity, businesses here have the highest average usage rates across many of the technologies considered in the study and are particularly advanced in the use of data analytics.

Sonia Blizzard, Managing Director of Beaming, said: “Adoption of new technologies such as AI and automation by SMEs has rocketed in the last few years, driven by a desire to improve productivity and find new forms of competitive advantage, and enabled by the availability of more accessible tools and greater take-up of ultrafast, ultra-resilient fibre connectivity.”