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Can AI & machine learning solve the UK’s productivity problem?

An audible sigh can be heard across the UK as staff get asked to do something.

By James Nunns

The UK has a big problem – productivity – the remedy could come in the shape of technology.

According to the latest report from the Office for National Statistics, hourly output fell by 0.1%, which may not seem like a lot but that’s on top of a further 0.5% decline in the first three months of the year.

The problem is that the UK is already lagging behind its European neighbours when it comes to this and it’s only getting worse.

Declining productivity levels aren’t universal for the UK, as the services sector’s output grew by 0.2% per hour, however, manufacturing output fell by 1.3% – despite the number of hours being worked growing.

These numbers may not appear to be that shocking but low productivity levels help to make the UK less competitive on the international scene and it leads to a whole heap of other problems.

The question always is, how can productivity be improved? Well the answer could be with technology. There’s already more “productivity” tools available in the market than you can shake a stick at and the rise of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technologies could significantly boost productivity – or replace ever worker with robots, it depends on your viewpoint really.

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Chris Francis, Director of Government Relations at SAP runs through why technology may be the solution: “Today’s announcement highlights the UK’s productivity has stayed stubbornly behind G7 competitors.  As the UK seeks renewed global trade opportunities as part of Brexit, the UK needs to be in a highly competitive position. Right now the UK is losing the equivalent of one hour for every five worked compared to G7 leaders, according to latest figure from the Office for National Statistics.


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“If we look at the adoption of productivity enhancing technology – like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – across other G7 nations, we might see why our productivity gap is such an issue. According to the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society indicators*, updated most recently in March, the UK is third from bottom on the use of ERP at just under 17% compared to the leadership position of 57%.  UK’s adoption of business platforms simply isn’t keeping pace with our European neighbours.

“Improving digital adoption could be a significant boost to the UK productivity and quickly lay the necessary digital foundations for the adoption of fourth industrial revolution technologies like machine learning and internet of things that depend on digital processes and data.

“The UK must elevate the importance and urgency of digital transformation, both for public and private sector, to close this gap.  In particular, the government can lead the charge by digitising public procurement – using business-to-business platforms to break down the silos between public and private procurement that currently create unnecessary layers of additional work and create unnecessary barriers to reaching the procurement target for SMEs.”

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