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Entrepreneurs and small business owners are on the front lines, navigating the realities of automation. And they have unique advantages. The very fact that they are small and nimble makes small businesses well suited to the realities of the 21st century economy. They are able to quickly adapt, take advantage of new opportunities, and to pivot to serve customer expectations in a rapidly changing world.
To better understand how small businesses are adapting to the age of AI, Intuit conducted a survey examining attitudes towards automation technology today as well as perceptions on how automation technology will impact their business and lives over the next 5 years.
We have arrived in the age of AI
For some, this new world of self-driving cars, drone delivery
and robot assistants is an exciting sign of progress.
For others, there is reason to worry that automation technology
will have a profoundly disruptive impact on our way of life.
An Oxford University report on “The Future of Employment”1 claims that
almost half of U.S. jobs are at a high risk of
being computerized over the next 20 years.
We have arrived in the age of AI
Entrepreneurs and small business owners are on the front
lines, navigating the realities of this technological revolution
in real time. And they have unique advantages.
The very fact that they are small and nimble makes small
businesses well suited to the realities of the 21st century
economy. They are able to quickly adapt, take advantage of
new opportunities, and to pivot to serve customer
expectations in a rapidly changing world.
To better understand how small businesses are adapting to
the age of AI, Intuit conducted a survey examining attitudes
towards automation technology today as well as
perceptions on how automation technology will impact their
business and lives over the next 5 years.
5 Key Findings
1. Despite all the headlines about how automation is going to have a
disruptive impact across industries, only 5% of small business owners
see automation primarily as a threat.
2. Very few small businesses think that automation technology will lead
to job losses. In fact, 31% say automation will allow them to add
employees, while 59% say there will be no difference, and only 1% say
there will be significant job loses.
3. Small businesses are adopting the leading edge of automation
technology.The top categories are big data (24%), natural language
processing (17%), and machine learning (12%).
4. Despite positive attitudes toward automation, a significant number of
small business are not set up to take advantage of it. Almost 1 in 5
small business are not using the cloud to run their business, a
necessary first step to taking advantage of the benefits of automation
5. The top three benefits existing users of automation technology see are:
freeing up time to get more work done (79%), helping with customer
service (77%), boosting innovation (74%).
The term “automation technology” refers to technology-enabled processes, tools, and systems that follow specific steps
automatically, reducing or eliminating the amount of human action required to complete a work task.
Some examples of automation technology are:
• Automatically sending a thank you email to someone who has purchased
a product online
• Automatically scheduling a reminder to be sent when an invoice is overdue
• Allowing customers to automatically pay their bill by phone or online
without speaking to a representative
• Using robots to pull items in an order from warehouse shelves
• Using digital tools to automatically answer customer questions
• Automatically fulfilling a customer order
About this Survey:
• An online, panel-based survey of small business owners and managers was conducted between October 2nd and
October 8th, 2017.
• 550 U.S. small business owners (78%) and managers (22%) responded and the margin of error is 4.18% with a 95%
• The respondent pool was consistent in terms of age, gender, race and geographic location with the population of
U.S. small business owners and managers.
66% of small businesses are already using automation technology
Small businesses are adopting the leading edge of automation technology
Types of automation technologies being used:
Big Data Analytics
Natural Language Processing
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
3%Other Advanced AutomationTechnology
Small businesses see automation technology primarily as an opportunity
Impact of automation technology on small business today:
Impact of automation technology on small business
over the next 5 years:
27% 5% 1%
Top five reasons automation helps small businesses today:
can free up more time
to get work done
75% 69% 68% 63% 62%
can help us become
can help us better serve
can improve how my
business is managed
can help us gain
Top reasons why automation will positively impact over the next five years:
73% 68% 62% 60% 59%
productivity innovation responsiveness to
Automation vs. Employees
Small businesses do not believe that automation will result in significant employee reductions.
Significant increase Slight increase No difference Slight decrease Significant decrease
Small businesses and cloud-based technology
Small businesses can better position themselves to take advantage of automation by moving more of their operations to
None 1-25% 26-50% 51-75% 76-100%
Percentage of business operations done using cloud solutions
Automation is mostly seen as a positive addition to small business
16% 41% 38%
15% 41% 39%
15% 43% 38%
Work/Life Balance Job Satisfaction Income
18% 45% 33%
Somewhat Positive Neither Positive
Ability to Manage Business
Small Businesses Are Embracing Automation
“As a solo practitioner, I’m on my own most days.
Without tools and technology, I wouldn’t be able to
accomplish as much as I do. It would take so much time
to do things manually or recreate processes. By
embracing automation I’m able to streamline my
business and maximize my time.The better the
technology is, the more it takes off my plate and allows
me to focus on what I’m good at—my core genius.”
entrepreneur and business systems consultant
“In the last year and a half, my business has grown in a
way it was not able to previously, and part of that is due
to automation. By automating some of my basic
business processes, I’ve been able to free up bandwidth
for other projects. For example, invoice creation used
to be a nightmare to do by hand; now, I don’t even have
to think about it.”
— Jake Feldman
“While a lot of our processes are currently done on a
computer, I can absolutely envision a time in the very
near future when we will be interacting with
QuickBooks via a voice assistant such as Amazon Alexa,
Google Home,Apple Siri or others.This is something I
would embrace. It is exciting to think about improving
our customer experience and back-end productivity
with modern innovations, all while eliminating
traditional manual tasks.”
— Kevin Neal
Intuit spoke with several small business owners in various industries to hear their thoughts on automation…
Small Businesses Are Embracing Automation
As a handcrafted accessories company,
we believe in the quality and integrity of
doing things by hand. But when it comes
to our business systems, technology and
automation is key. It speeds things up and
leaves less room for error. With
QuickBooks, for example, reports are
automated and categorized for me.
It’s plug-and-play after you get it set
up. Once the ground work is in place,
it takes care of itself.”
— Theresa Lee
The impact ofAI and other advanced
automation technology will play out for
years, even decades to come.
And while there are sure to be unforeseen
impacts on our economy, workforce and
society, one things is sure – small business
owners will lead the charge in figuring out
how to navigate this new reality.