Are Canada’s Small Businesses Ready to Embrace the Promise of AI?

A new study digs into the top challenges and opportunities for Canadian SMEs related to AI adoption.

As any small business owner will tell you—and there are many, as 1.21 million of Canada’s 1.22 million employer businesses are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—running an SME isn’t for the faint of heart. These businesses have an outsized impact on the markets they support, contributing significantly to Canada’s economic success, and doing it all with access to fewer resources than their enterprise neighbours. Small business owners need all the tools and support that they can get to optimize productivity, efficiency and agility.

AI is a powerful tool that can help small business owners take their businesses to new heights, but are SMEs ready to adapt to a new way of work? A new study from Microsoft profiling SME business leaders across industries reveals AI adoption is high, but more education and guidance are needed to help SMEs to overcome common hurdles and fully realize the benefits.

AI for Small Business

There’s no question that harnessing AI can have immense benefits for a wide range of small businesses. From boosting employee productivity and marketing efficiency to enhancing customer service and jumpstarting content creation, the benefits of AI are irrefutable.

Nearly 78 per cent of SMEs are right now seeking to adopt AI and 65 per cent are encouraging their employees to use it, a clear indication that the AI future has arrived. And the future is a productive one—76 per cent of SMEs say the impact of AI on their business productivity has been positive. On average, SMEs in the study saw an increase of 31 per cent in productivity.

Laying the Right Foundations

Despite the obvious benefits, some hesitation remains from Canada’s SME business leaders. While financing or costs was identified as a key barrier to adopting more AI, information security and skilling/training were also identified as top concerns. These should lead SMEs to take a considered and thoughtful approach to AI adoption.

Organizations seeing the best gains in productivity and innovation start with the right groundwork and foundations to amplify its impact. The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, with risks increasing in frequency and sophistication every year. As AI adoption and usage increases, it’s critical for SMEs to evaluate their cybersecurity stance and ensure they have basic hygiene practices in place. Microsoft’s Security 101 training can help you and your team up to speed on the fundamentals and best practices.

Skilling: AI offers tremendous potential to empower your workforce, but only if everyone has the skills to use it. Microsoft offers a number of free resources to help you get your team up to speed. Visit the AI skills web page for more information.

AI has significant potential to enhance employee productivity and business workflows, and solutions like Microsoft Copilot, an AI assistant for work that’s accessible and intuitive, can be an easy way for SMEs to get started. Copilot will enable SME employees to streamline work processes and augment their tasks to free up time for higher-value work.

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Tania Amardeil
Tania Amardeil