As Canadian businesses rebound from the past few years of stress and uncertainty, a new report by Sage, the leader in accounting, financial, HR and payroll technology for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), reveals SMBs across the country are experiencing a one-two punch of rising costs and a scarcity of talent. But they’re not without a way to combat these challenges.
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are helping them win the battle. “AI is a great accelerator of skills and productivity,” says Aaron Harris, chief technology officer of Sage. “Harnessed the right way, AI has the ability to help every SMB be more productive.”
Sage’s global report Small Business, Big Opportunity surveyed almost 12,000 SMBs worldwide including 1,200 in Canada. It found that the majority of Canadian SMBs (72 per cent) are confident in their current business success, up from 63 per cent in 2022. In more good news, half (50 per cent) saw an increase in revenue in 2023, with nearly a quarter (24 per cent) experiencing more than 10 per cent growth.
Buoyed by increases in revenue and growth, SMBs are exploring innovative solutions to conquer rising costs and a shortage of talent. Sage is poised to help, with its vast network of products and services that have enabled customers to transform their accounting, human resources and payroll functions.
Sage’s technology that embeds AI learns from customer behavior and makes intelligent suggestions to simplify tasks for customers, freeing up their time and enabling them to focus on more value-adding activities. Harris says AI can play a pivotal role in improving document capture, forecasts, fraud prevention, benchmarking, categorization and decision support. Sage is already embedding AI into several of its product and service offerings, specifically its accounting software.
The study also found that Canadian SMBs are looking to cut costs and operate more efficiently to overcome many of their challenges. Thirty-eight per cent of Canadian SMBs, the joint highest globally, shared cutting costs has helped their business succeed in the past year, compared with 33 per cent globally and 30 per cent in the United States.
While it’s still in its early stages, the metaverse is a potential game-changer for retail and other sectors, supported by the reliable network performance offered by 5G, Harris says. Almost half of SMBs in Canada (49 per cent) say they will increase their investment in technology over the next 12 months with emerging technologies such as 5G (29 per cent), AI (24 per cent) and the metaverse (16 per cent) being the most likely to be adopted.
“It’s at a stage now where customers expect Sage to guide and enable them with new emerging tech tools and skills to capitalize on this new world of commerce,” Harris says.
Harris says there needs to be a foundational understanding in companies and at the government level that embracing emerging technologies comes with a great responsibility to use them in the most responsible and safe way.
“Sage services clients, their chief financial officers, bookkeepers and other professionals. These are trust-based jobs. As a core principle, we must ensure that our customers continue to trust us. A part of that is being transparent with easy-to-understand principles to guide us in what we will and won’t do. For example, we will never use AI in a way that erodes our customers’ trust in our products. There may be some exciting opportunities that we won’t use because of this.”
Harris is working with his peers and government to develop policies that will ensure AI is used safely and responsibly. “It boils down to the relationship between human use and technology,” he says. “It needs to be designed in a way that the technology will always fall back on humans to make decisions about any import.”
Harris also points to greater responsibility for diversity and inclusion in the emerging technology space. “If you’re going to use AI to scan resumes, for example, you must incorporate different people with different languages and demographics in your training to ensure your scans are free of bias.”
Sage is already trialling AI in its own operations using Copilot, Microsoft’s new productivity tool based on generative AI. Through continued investment in strategic partnerships, Sage aims to further embed these emerging technologies to help SMBs reach their goals.
“These SMBs are the heart and soul of the communities they serve and if we can help them by knocking down barriers, it will have a huge impact on the world,” Harris says.
Sage, in partnership with Strand Partnersconducted an online survey of 11,986 SMB business leaders in February 2023. The markets included as part of this study are Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, the UK and the US In each market, except the US (where a specific sample was included for those employing 25 to 500 people due to a different official definition of SMB), decision-makers at businesses employing fewer than 250 people were targeted. For more information, see Small Business, Big Opportunity report and learn about Sage’s software solutions including Sage Business Cloud, Sage Accounting, Sage Intacct, Sage HRand Sage X3.
Advertising feature produced by Sage and Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.