UK tech executives confident in AI skills despite adoption challenges, divided on ROI

Research from IT consultancy Zartis has highlighted potential overconfidence among UK tech executives regarding their organisation’s AI roadmap. A significant 85% of these executives rated their workforce’s AI knowledge and expertise as ‘skilled’, with over half (51%) considering it ‘highly skilled’. Despite this confidence, many executives expressed concerns about barriers to further AI adoption and were divided on the return on investment (ROI) of AI initiatives.

Almost all UK tech executives (94%) reported their organisations use AI in some capacity, with only 6% still exploring or researching options. None indicated a complete lack of AI usage. The motivations for AI adoption varied, with 40% of executives feeling industry-wide momentum pressured them to prioritise AI investment.

However, several barriers hindered AI adoption, including budget constraints (41%), a shortage of AI talent (38%), and technical complexity (35%). Key concerns related to AI adoption included integration challenges (44%), uncertainty around cost and ROI (42%), and data privacy and IP security issues (38%). Interestingly, only 28% of respondents reported cultural resistance to AI within their organisations.

“AI adoption isn’t some ‘on or off’ switch,” says Michal Szymczak, Head of AI Strategy at Zartis. “To a lot of businesses, it involves a significant financial investment, and there are complex questions to grapple with surrounding data privacy, or integration with existing technology stacks. That makes executives' confidence in their company’s AI skill set rather ironic. They puff their chests out, while simultaneously pointing to all the obstacles that could stop them in their tracks. That feels like a severe underestimation of how much work needs to happen to make AI capabilities work with software development and DevOps practices.”

Executives are divided on the financial impact of AI. While 42% cited ROI uncertainty as a major concern, 53% viewed cost savings through improved efficiency as a significant long-term benefit. "Cost savings" emerged as the top perceived benefit of AI adoption.

In 2024, nearly all executives (93%) planned to invest at least £100,000 in AI, with 44% budgeting £500,000 or more, and 25% committing at least £1,000,000. Only 1% anticipated spending over £2,000,000.

Software development was the primary focus for AI investments, with 59% of executives targeting this area. Quality assurance and DevOps and automation each attracted 44% of planned spending. This focus aligned with the top challenges reported in software development teams: skills shortage and talent acquisition (46%), quality assurance and testing (40%), and continuous integration and deployment (40%).

The long-term cost-saving potential of AI remained contentious: 56% of executives believed AI would cut software development costs by at least 20%, while 36% expected smaller savings.

“I think what will become clear over time is who’s investing into AI for the sake of it, and who’s doing it for the genuine betterment of their business,” says Angel Benito, CTO at Zartis. “There’s clearly a lot of pressure on organisations to keep up with AI development or get left behind, which would explain why so many are making the investment despite the uncertainty about the ROI. They see the potential for long-term cost savings, regardless of whether that view is backed up by hard-boiled evidence or fairy dust. They must understand that it’s not about the tools at the end of the day. It’s about doing that deep-dive due diligence work into identifying and understanding where and how the tools will make employees at their organisations more productive.” 

"There is significant pressure on organisations to keep up with AI development or risk being left behind,” says Angel Benito, CTO at Zartis. “This explains why many are investing despite the uncertainty about ROI. They see the potential for long-term cost savings but need a well-curated plan to implement the changes. It's crucial to understand that it's not just about the tools; it's about the people. The key step is identifying and understanding how and where these tools will enhance employee productivity or make products more competitive."

When asked how executives plan to use AI to solve or alleviate the most significant challenges within their software development teams, the responses are decidedly mixed, with no clear winner. The top three cited utilities of AI for software development are AI-powered copilot tools for coding (53%), improved continuous integration and deployment (52%), and improved team communication and collaboration (46%).

The study follows recent research from Zartis showing that over three-quarters of UK tech executives favour more government AI oversight. A majority of them even express being broadly satisfied with current global government coordination of AI regulation – with many anticipating a myriad of benefits from the EU AI Act in particular.