AI tops concerns of UK Tech Leaders; only 12% are prepared for generative AI demands as they call for heavier regulation

  • 90% believe stronger regulation of AI is essential, but 66% say it won’t solve all the risks
  • Just 2 in 10 organisations have an AI policy in place
  • Only 1 in 10 report having large scale implementations of AI
  • AI, In-Office Mandates and unlocking ROI are top concerns from the world’s largest and longest running annual survey of technology/digital leadership

Before international governments meet this week at Bletchley Park for the world’s first AI Safety Summit, a global study of tech leaders (CIOs, CTOs etc) has found that only 1 in 8 (12%) in the UK are prepared for the demands of generative AI. An overwhelming majority (90%) believe heavier AI regulation is essential, but the scale of the challenge is clear, with two thirds (66%) believing tighter regulation won’t solve all the issues and risks that come with this rapidly developing technology.

These findings are revealed today in the 25th annual Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report, the world’s largest and longest running annual survey of technology leadership[1]. Over the last 25 years, the research has taken in the views of over 50,000 technology leaders.

 

Other key AI findings[2] in the UK include:

  • AI still at the experimentation stage globally and in the UK – Despite the explosive predicted market growth of AI, only 1 in 10 technology leaders in the UK report having large scale implementations of AI, a figure that hasn’t changed in five years.
  • But the AI ripples are beginning to widen – Almost half of organisations in the UK (48%) are either piloting or conducting a small scale implementation of AI. When it comes to generative AI, this figure is currently around a third.
  • Few have an AI policy in place – Just 2 in 10 (21%) of UK organisations have an AI policy in place, and more than a third (37%) have no plans to attempt such a policy at this time.
  • Data privacy – a key concern for implementing generative AI – More than a third (35%) of technology leaders in the UK are concerned about data privacy as an issue for implementing generative AI.
  • A tsunami of AI driven cyberattacks around the corner? – Although cyberattacks are down year-on-year, the report warns that generative AI has the potential to take cybercrime to a whole new, very dark, level, as new forms of attacks emerge.
  • Benefits of AI outweigh the risks – However, unregulated wild west or not – more than seven in ten of technology leaders in the UK think that the benefits of AI outweigh the risks.
  • Jobs lost – The average percentage of jobs that technology leaders in the UK feel will be lost to automation is 15%.

 

Bev White, CEO of Nash Squared, said:

Over the years there has been much hype about the potential for AI, but this year our research suggests we may have reached a tipping point. AI sits at the intersection of people and technology, and with the recent mass adoption of generative AI, the opportunities and challenges for organisations is potentially vast. It could be the trigger that prompts an avalanche of AI investment – similar to the mass adoption of cloud over the last ten years. This just makes the regulation and governance of AI more important than ever. Despite their keenness, many tech leaders admit that they don’t have a clear picture of the way forward and feel unprepared for the challenges ahead. Establishing clear guardrails, guidelines and ethical safety nets around AI is simply essential. Otherwise, what could be one of the truly transformational enablers of the modern age could instead become one of its biggest, risk-laden destabilisers.”

 

Tech Leaders Plan for Cautious Investment

  • Technology spend – After the hyper growth during and coming out of the pandemic, expectations of technology spend and investment in people have returned to more ‘normal’ levels. Four in ten (42%) of technology leaders in the UK expect their overall IT/technology budget to increase during the next 12 months – a figure broadly in line with pre-pandemic years.
  • Increase in headcount – A similar number of technology leaders in the UK (48%) expect to increase their headcount. This figure is the second highest reading in the last decade outside of the pandemic peak, although a significant fall on last year.
  • Innovative tech investment largely stalls – One casualty of the pandemic that still seems to remain, is that investment in emerging tech is being held back with the exception of pilots in AI, quantum and the metaverse.

 

Inclusion and Hybrid Working

  • Full week in-office mandates hits number of women being hired in UK tech – The report found that a high number of mandated days in the office appears to have had a negative impact on the proportion of female new hires in the tech team over the last two years. For UK companies without mandated in-office days, 28% of the tech team hired recently is female. This number drops to 21% at UK companies with a mandated 5 days in the office. The fall in women in UK Tech was recently highlighted by ONS jobs data[3], finding that the number of women working in UK Tech had dropped by 3,000 at the same time as the sector recorded one of the fastest growth rates in tech employment (up 85,000).
  • In-office mandates work better for smaller organisations – A high majority (83%) of small organisations in the UK report that their in-office policy is working well compared to 64% of large organisations. Twice as many large organisations (36%) to small organisations (17%) report that their policy is working poorly.
  • No movement in the number of female tech leaders – This year 12% of technology leaders in the UK identify as female, very similar to last year’s. This is a disappointing stagnation in what has been a painfully slow and shallow upward trend in recent years.
  • Female members of the tech team – Globally female representation on tech teams remained at 23% year-on-year, with the US doing marginally better (27%) and UK businesses the same as the global average at 23%.

 

Tech Talent Shortage

  • Mass skills shortages ease slightly – This year 53% of technology leaders in the UK say that a skills shortage is preventing them from keeping up with the pace of change, down from the record 68% last year as technology demand and skills supply move a little more in balance.
  • Skills in demand – However, although scarcity of top skills for every type of technology professional has fallen year-on-year, there still remains a shortage with the most scarce skills being data engineers, enterprise architects, software engineers and technical architects.
  • Demand for cyber skills sees largest fall – In recent years cybersecurity skills have occupied the top three most scarce skills, but this year has seen one of the largest falls in demand in the UK (down 24%) as technology leaders focus their limited budgets on completing their transformation and revenue generation ambitions rather than shoring up security.
  • Potential impact of AI-driven cyberattacks on skills – Despite this drop, a quarter of technology leaders in the UK still struggle to find the right cybersecurity skills. The report also suggests that, if AI begins to generate new levels of cyber risk, cyber specialists may once again top the league table of skills in demand.

 

Technology/digital leaders on the board

  • New tech drives need for technology/digital leaders to be on the top table – Over two thirds (70%) of technology leaders in the UK are members of the operational board/executive management team, the highest level for almost 15 years (2009), when this trend started to be tracked by the report. Over the last five years there have been signs of a decline in executive committee  membership, but the report says that this is now on the rise due to the proliferation of new technologies like generative AI, where technology leaders can offer a unique and valuable perspective to the top table.
  • A seat on the executive committee also helps outperform the competition – When UK tech leaders are given a seat at the top table this delivers advantages over the competition, including a 35% uplift in adopting new technology, and a 16% advantage in attracting and retaining talent.

 

Bev White, CEO of Nash Squared, concluded:

After the once-in-a-generation spike in investment in technology that we saw due to the pandemic, things have settled down to more like normal now. But this ‘normal’ remains substantial and significant, as digital technologies are central to how the modern business operates. That’s why, as our report shows, having a technology specialist like the CIO on the executive committee delivers measurable benefits.

However, for any business to perform at its best, the working model needs to be right. There is a fascinating and very much live debate going on at the moment as to what kind of in-office mandate businesses should adopt. There is no single answer here, of course – it will vary for each individual business. However, our research shows that there are clear risks to the diversity agenda in pushing too far in the back-to-office direction. This needs to be very carefully monitored and managed if we want to ensure that technology drives up its levels of talented women.”

 

References

[1] This year a survey of 2,104 technology leaders globally took place between 22nd June 2023 and 18th September 2023, across 82 countries. In the UK, 1,185 technology leaders were surveyed.

[2] Technology leaders in the UK were either asked for their views on the AI market, or specifically generative AI, a subset of AI. In this press release, the term AI refers to the entire AI market in the UK, and the term ‘generative AI’ refers to generative AI applications such as ChatGPT.

[3] ONS Employment by Industry Data – 15th August 2023

 

About the Report

In its 25th year of publication, the 2023 Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report is the world’s largest and longest running survey of senior technology decision makers. Launched in 1998 and previously called the CIO Survey, it has been an influential and respected indicator of major trends in technology and digital for over two decades. This year a survey of over 2,104 technology/digital leaders globally (1,185 in the UK) took place between 22nd June 2023 and 18th September 2023, across 86 countries.

 

To request a full copy of the results, please visit https://www.nashsquared.com/dlr

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