SMEs falling behind on innovation as many made no investment in tech in last year

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New research reveals a sharp divide between how important SMEs think new technology is to the future of their business and how much they actually invest in it.

Over three quarters of SMEs see investing in technological innovation as important, yet one in ten haven’t invested in any new technology at all in the past 12 months.

In addition, a quarter of SMEs have spent less than 10% of their budget on new technology, compared to over half who have spent between 11-30%. This lack of investment could mean that the small businesses who spend less are falling behind their peers in terms of innovation.

These findings are drawn from Collaborate UK, CitySprint’s sixth annual survey of SME decision makers. This found that over a third of SMEs would be more likely to adopt new tech in the future if there was increased Government support or bursaries available, while over a quarter of businesses have said they would like to see more information available on what would work for their specific business.

Previous research from the CBI suggests that by encouraging more businesses to take advantage of existing technologies, management practices and business support– such as cloud computing, mobile technology and e-purchasing – the UK economy could receive a £100 billion boost and see a 5% reduction in income inequality.

Whilst businesses understand the importance of implementing new technology, a clear list of barriers has emerged which are preventing SMEs from making the investment needed: a lack of budget comes out as the most cited reason, followed by concerns about security and that staff would have to be trained to use it (24%).

Nearly a fifth would be more likely to adopt new tech, like AI, blockchain, or automation, if they worked with other businesses of a similar size and scale to increase their chances of success.

Patrick Gallagher, CitySprint Group CEO, commented: “Business owners know that innovation drives growth, but testing and adopting the latest tech is expensive and time consuming, and without more support small businesses struggle to keep up with technologies that can help them stay ahead.

He continued: “Whilst further support is crucial, it’s understandable that some SMEs don’t want to go it alone, particularly during a period of economic uncertainty. We welcomed the launch of the Government’s Business Basics Programme last year, which includes a recently announced £2million grant to encourage SMEs to introduce proven technologies. Small business owners need to seek out these types of grants and shouldn’t be afraid to ask for support in order to reach their innovation goals. What this research ultimately shows is that if SMEs aren’t able to keep up with the latest tech then the UK’s well-earned reputation as a hotbed for innovation could be impacted.”

In the context of rapid innovation, working out where new technology can have the most effective impact in a business can be difficult for smaller enterprises. Based on this research, the top three reasons SMEs use technology in their business are: improving IT infrastructure, reducing business costs through automation, and using tech to protect information through cyber security. Just 17% of SMEs – fewer than one in five – are currently using AI or machine learning algorithms, and only 23% plan to use such tech in the future.

Previously released data from the Collaborate UK research found that 77% of UK SMEs are as confident about the future compared to a year ago, while 89% of SMEs are in the same or better financial shape compared to 12 months ago. Unsurprisingly, Brexit is cited by a third of small businesses as the number one obstacle to the success of their business over the next 12 months.