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SMEs hesitant to embrace AI, yet early adopters see productivity boost

One in five (19%) Australian small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are currently using artificial intelligence (AI) tools in their business, though a further 21% plan to, according to research by business management platform MYOB. Ninety per cent of respondents who use AI started in the last 12 months. Of those, 88% say it has helped them save time in their business and 81% said it has helped increase productivity.  

The survey of 1012 SME owners and operators found the most popular uses for AI include crafting social media and marketing posts (49%), copywriting for marketing materials and media releases (34%), followed by copywriting of technical documents (25%) and market, trend and risk analysis (25%). 

Emma Fawcett, MYOB’s General Manager SME, said the popularity of free generative AI tools such as ChatGPT has opened the door for smaller business owners to explore AI.  

“There is tremendous opportunity in all digital technology uptake for small business owners, and this includes newer options such as AI,” Emma said. 

“The research indicates that SMEs know AI has the potential to help them, and those that have adopted it can see improvements in productivity and timesaving. However, there are still barriers to overcome, including feeling that they don’t know enough about AI or have concerns about the costs associated with implementing new systems.  


“Forty-four per cent believe the use of AI will impact their industry over the next five years, so it’s time for small and medium sized business owners to understand what opportunities are available to them, and how they can harness these to maximise their business efficiency.” 

The research shows one in ten (11%) respondents spend more than eight hours a week on overhead tasks such as paperwork, finances and timesheets. If given the option to redirect this time to other tasks, 44% would focus on growing the business, almost a third (31%) said they would use the time to rest, while 24% would innovate, 24% would come up with new products or services and 24% would focus on team engagement. 

“The findings suggest that business owners want to make savvy time investments, either by cultivating and growing their business, or simply by reducing the amount of time spent on repetitive tasks. AI and other forms of digital business solutions can free up time, often at no or a low cost.” 

“I’d encourage all small business owners to look at what’s available in their industry, talk to other business owners about how they’re using AI, and don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It doesn’t have to be a significant time or cash investment, but it’s worthwhile knowing what’s on offer and how it can help.”  


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