Opinion
Stephen Browning 15 May 2018 04:26pm

Examining the UK's industrial strategy funding

Stephen Browning, interim challenge director at Next Generation Services, shares his thoughts on the £20m fund that promises to create new opportunities for businesses and researchers to work together on services for the accountancy, insurance and legal industries

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Caption: The volumes of data, speed at which it change and reliance on people to interpret it, is a limiting factor
A key, unifying factor of the high-value data-driven service sector is that they rely on the knowledge, experience and intuition of people to deliver the services they provide.

Increasingly, the volumes of data and the speed at which it changes, coupled with the reliance on people to understand and interpret it, is a limiting factor in scaling these services.

A large part of service delivery is “high touch” either through high knowledge individuals or through call centres and other direct human interaction. This approach limits the scale of delivery and the degree of personalisation.

By using a combination of people, digitisation, data and technologies related to AI, it becomes possible for firms to deliver more personalised services to their customers at scale and on an international level. This is true for accountancy.

AI offers the ability to gain insight from complex data faster and more accurately than humans can by identifying patterns that a human would simply not be able to see.

The UK is in a strong position to extend our global leadership from the current generation of high value services to the next. We can responsibly build on our expertise in these sectors and leadership in AI, coupled with our expertise in data, analysis and digitisation, to achieve a step change in the productivity of our professional and financial services.

This is why next generation services was included in the government’s Industrial Strategy as one of the pioneer opportunities to receive Industrial Strategy Challenge funding.

While I don’t subscribe to the dystopian view of the threat of AI domination, there are clear broader areas of concern around ethics, bias and under-employment. Here again, we have world leading researchers in the social sciences and humanities that we can include to avoid and reduce problems.

By pioneering the next generation of services, we will ensure that the UK remains at the leading edge of this revolution; the benefits will go well beyond the economic growth of the services industry. It will provide our businesses, consumers and citizens with enhanced services, improving in turn their productivity and participation within society.

We are initially limiting the scope of this challenge to accountancy, legal services and insurance, which are high-value data-driven services under the broader category of Professional Business Services and Financial Services.

This Challenge will receive pioneer funding of up to £20m, confirmed by the government as part of the AI Sector Deal. These are challenges with very strong potential, but where we recognise we need to develop them even further in partnership with the business, research and innovation communities so that together we can fully articulate the proposition and what we need to do about it.

There will be two elements to the challenge – a collaborative research and development programme and an interdisciplinary research programme.

The CR&D programme will offer £16m in two competitions, the first one opening in June. The aim is to bring together complete value chains in the services ecosystems to pioneer next generation services. This programme, led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation, is aimed at business-led consortia or single-firm projects with the object of accelerating the adoption of AI technologies in the accountancy, insurance and legal services sectors.

The interdisciplinary research programme will offer £4m in two staged calls, focussed on identifying opportunities offered by the application of new technologies in these targeted sectors as well as the potential barriers to adoption. It will look at how to resolve these so that the benefits offered by the new technology for both individual businesses and wider society can be fully realised.

Visit Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund pages for more details on the competitions

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