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Machine learning can trigger a post-Brexit boom… if the UK embraces it

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, deal or no deal, the UK economy is facing one of its biggest-ever challenges. Exactly how UK businesses will fair once the UK has left the single market, nobody knows for sure. Will firms be able to capitalise on the advantages of going solo on the world economic stage?

Perhaps luckily for UK companies, technology is now poised to help businesses from all sectors overcome some of the biggest obstacles to growth. The emerging technology of Machine Learning is a real case in point. According to analysts at PWC, Machine Learning may not only help the UK weather a post-Brexit storm, but also trigger an economic boom – as long as technology leaders realise Machine Learning’s full potential.

The productivity millstone

For decades low UK productivity has been held up as a major barrier to UK economic growth. This matters because increased productivity – measured by the amount of output per hour worked – is the way that companies grow, countries get richer and living standards rise.

Let’s put that into context. Productivity in UK companies is now lower than Germany, France and the US, a trend that has been getting steadily worse since the economic crisis. In fact, French workers could finish work on Thursdays every week and still produce more than their UK counterparts. A lack of investment in technology and training is widely accepted as the reason for this productivity slump.

What’s Machine Learning got to do with it?

According to experts at PWC, Machine Learning could play a significant part in solving UK firms’ productivity problem, and also kickstart a new era of innovation.

It may not sound like much, but PWC has predicted the technology will boost UK productivity by 1.9% by 2030 - which equates to an impressive 10.3% increase in the economy worth £232bn. PWC doesn’t mince its words, proclaiming Machine Learning as ‘one of the biggest commercial opportunities in today’s fast-changing economy’. It says the benefits of this growth will be shared across the whole of the UK, leading to ‘extra spending power per household of up to £1,800 to £2,300 by 2030’.

These impressive figures will be achieved because Machine Learning will lead to more efficient production methods, vastly improved workforce management, higher-skilled jobs, automation, cheaper goods and as we’ve already discussed, higher real incomes.

Dawn of a new era of innovation

Machine Learning will also lead to the birth of new industries and innovative new companies to compete in them. The UK with its well-deserved reputation as a tech innovation hub is particularly well placed to reap the benefits. These firms will operate in new unimagined ways without the burden of legacy systems – imagine the step change between traditional taxis and Uber and Blockbuster Video versus Netflix.

PWC stresses its projected growth gains are conservative estimates and if companies double down on their Machine Learning adoption the gains could be even bigger, reinvigorating the UK economy just in time to help businesses’ profit margins post-Brexit.

What sectors stand to benefit?

Machine Learning solutions take data-hungry, repetitive tasks, automate them and then refine their own actions to get the best result, all without human intervention. This means Machine Learning can benefit virtually any business in any sector of the UK economy.

For instance, it can be used in retail to perfect everything from supply chain and store assortment to personalising customer experiences and workforce management. It can also be used in healthcare to analyse MRI scans and diagnose specific illnesses. The financial services and the automotive sectors are also data-heavy areas ripe for automation.

How should UK business prepare for the Machine Learning revolution?

This is a big question, and probably too big to be answered in this blog, but there are three top line steps to start your Machine Learning Journey:

  1. Understand your processes: Machine Learning thrives on clear instructions and lots of data. As a company you need to explicitly understand what it is that you do and what data you use to decide what to do next.
  2. Store your data in a structured fashion. Before Machine Learning can process data, it needs to be properly stored and annotated. This sounds like a simple task, but it can be a huge and costly headache if done incorrectly or not done at all.
  3. Start looking for trusted Machine Learning partners today. The companies best placed to reap the rewards from the Machine Learning revolution will start forming strong partnerships with sector experts sooner rather than later. Machine Learning is an on-going journey, rather than a destination. The firms who embark on this journey first will realise benefits sooner and develop more of a competitive advantage.

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