Most Canadian business owners embrace technology to secure their futures

Firsthand insight into the perceived and expected benefits and challenges of automation and AI

Technology has dramatically changed the face of business. Once available only to a select few, businesses of all sizes are now able to utilize some form of automation in their operations, while using AI-powered software to collect and analyze the data before making critical business decisions. It’s easy to justify automation to autonomously generate or manage invoices, but it’s more difficult to entrust a machine with sensitive financial information. Or is it?

We asked 500 business owners in Canada how they’re currently applying technology in and outside of the workplace, from accounting tasks to their quality of life and socioeconomic growth, as well as their expectations for automation and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to come.1 Here’s what we discovered.

Employers do what’s best for the business

When TSheets ran a similar survey in the U.S., only 0.6% of small business owners would entrust their company’s sensitive information with an AI-powered accounting software alone. Canadian small business owners turn out to be more practical when comparing separate statements involving a human accountant and an AI-powered accounting software.

They will say “YES” to AI-powered accounting if

Ultimately, they just want what’s best for their business. But before one conveniently deduces what business owners are willing to forgo to be more cost efficient and productive, 43.8% of respondents say they will opt for a human accountant using AI-powered accounting for added accuracy, suggesting that the appeal of having a human touch is still preferred whenever possible.

The survey makes a distinction between “automation” and “AI,” with the former referring to a hardware or software capable of performing tasks automatically and the latter referring to machines or software learning and mimicking human behaviour and intelligence. We asked respondents about their application and experience with both.

Opinions on automation

Opinions on AI

GPS in the workplace: Assumption versus reality

According to the TSheets’ GPS survey, employees who have used GPS in the workplace reported a positive experience. Those who have not assumed it would be a negative undertaking.

GPS tracking at work: How does Canada compare to other nations?

Download the report

Technology can process more data faster and cheaper

Businesses that use automation are definitely enjoying the perks technology has to offer, with accuracy, speed, productivity and cost-efficiency being the top four benefits. The list is similar for artificial intelligence, but AI has the added benefit of being able to generate or expand on new ideas.

Think it sounds more like a summer blockbuster? Not at all. Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik is the Visiting Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. He created an AI system that generates suggestions for new drug compounds based on their molecular structure. Other instances include Facebook’s advertising platform that uses AI to find targeted users and create personalized ads based on their preferences.

Top benefits of using automation

Top benefits of using AI

Other ways to utilize AI and automation

Almost a quarter (21%) of respondents say they’re using software powered by AI in the customer support segment of their business to field general questions more effectively, while 40.4% say they benefit from AI distributing customer service calls more efficiently.

What AI and automation have in store for the future

Respondents also see the benefits of technology outside of the workplace, identifying two primary recipients of things to come in the next decade.

1. Economic growth

Whether it’s automation (55%) or AI (58.4%), more than half of respondents believe the technology will benefit their economic growth. One in 3 respondents also says automation (32%) and AI (33%) will narrow the gap between the rich and poor in society.

When it comes to job opportunities, business owners feel that automation and technology will put workers without a college degree at a disadvantage, but graduates will stand to benefit.

Meanwhile, 37% of respondents anticipate better job conditions, in terms of working hours, from the relief provided by automation and AI.

2. Quality of life improvements

Perhaps boosted by their confidence in a better economy, 60% of respondents believe AI will have a positive impact on their quality of life in the next 10 years, while 22% don’t expect anything to change and 18% say it will take a turn for the worse.

When it comes to automation, 49% foresee a positive impact on their quality of life in the next decade, while 33% expect zero effect and 18% downvote the consequences.

Automation

AI

Technology will continue to be a divisive topic, whether it’s in or away from the workplace. The digital transformations impacting business operations, specifically accounting and finance responsibilities, are irrefutable, from time tracking and scheduling to payroll and billing. Artificial intelligence in the form of big data, natural language processing and machine learning can help businesses make smart decisions and get paid promptly while providing a network of smart connections with contractors, accounting partners and other businesses.

The machines are already here. The challenge for small businesses is matching the right technology to their business needs to secure a place in the future.

1TSheets commissioned Pollfish to survey 500 business owners aged 18+ throughout Canada in August 2018 for their views on automation and artificial intelligence (AI). TSheets designed and paid for the survey and welcomes the re-use of this data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original source is cited with attribution to “TSheets by QuickBooks.”