About time Big Business learned from small business

The uneven spread of the benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the UK is striking. A new report shows 90% of large organisations are already working on AI solutions but less than 50% of smaller businesses are in the game.

The DCMS report – Data foundations and AI adoption in the UK private and third sectors – out yesterday looks at whether businesses and third sector organisations like charities have strong foundations for their use of data. The key to the current revolution in AI and data use is having a strong foundation – which means gathering the right data, organising it appropriately and having good governance, data quality and security.

Of course it’s no surprise that big businesses have the money and talent to get their data organised where small-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) often need time to catch up. But what should worry us all is that only 42% of third sector organisations in the study are planning to use, or already using, AI.

That matters because UK society depends on our charities, community and voluntary organisations, social enterprises and mutuals to deliver more than £200bn of gross value added each year. That’s about 10% of the UK’s annual economic output. So if most of these organisations aren’t investing in data and related technology then they’re going to be doing their job with one hand tied behind their backs. Which means the people who depend on their support – often those most in need – get slower, less effective help than if they had the tools enjoyed by big business, and ultimately tax payers have to pay more to pick up the extra costs on health, care and benefits. Not only is this unfair on people already at a disadvantage, but it’s a drag on society which benefits nobody.

So what do we do about this unjust imbalance? Big businesses talk a good game about social responsibility and supporting charitable causes, with FTSE 100 businesses donating around 2.4% of profits to charity annually. But forging long-term partnerships with organisations to give their time and talent to helping the third sector get to grips with data and AI takes up precious staff time and isn’t on the “To Do” list for most big businesses. It should be though – and here’s where innovative small businesses outsmart the big players.

The team at Bristol’s SR2 (which today announced it has been certified as a B-Corp) not only donate and volunteer their own skills to support local charities, they’ve set up Bristol Technology Volunteers to provide charitable causes “with techies that have the skills and desire to give back via some pro-bono work”. The problem with big businesses is that they get too corporate and mechanistic about their CSR activities. Around 96% of the UK’s 166,000 voluntary organisations are small; they have to be nimble to respond to changes, stretch resources incredibly thinly and, frankly, they don’t have time to be a pawn in big corporate’s CSR game. So come on big business – you’re investing in AI and data to help yourselves, now spread the benefit across society too.

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