Reality Check: Barely One in 10 Companies Have Advanced Technology in Place


While advanced technology adoption may seem pervasive, many businesses may still be relying on simple PCs, or even pens and paper, to get work done.

We’re inundated with industry surveys that show advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are just about everywhere.

The problem with many industry surveys is they involve larger, forward-looking enterprises that tend to be the most visible to analysts, vendors, and media organizations.

See also: Successful Business Adoption of AI Requires Soft Skills

The US Census Bureau, which looks closely at every company across the fruited plain, recently brought many high-flying technology statistics down to earth, finding that barely nine percent have some semblance of advanced technologies such as AI or machine learning in place. The bureau surveyed 583,000 US businesses at the end of 2018 to gauge their technology adoption.

“We find that adoption of advanced technologies is relatively low and skewed, with heavy concentration among older and larger firms, with firm size and age being key determinants of adoption,” the survey’s authors state. The Census Bureau looked at adoption rates within just about every business in the country, including your local tool-and-dye shop, restaurants, or greenhouse complex. The eye-opener is that even in industries where you expect to see heavy use of advanced technologies, widespread adoption is in the minority.

Business Technology Use Rates by Type (using or testing):

  • Touchscreens 7%
  • Machine Learning 4%
  • Voice Recognition 3%
  • Machine Vision 2%
  • Robotics 2%
  • Natural Language 2%
  • RFID 1%
  • Augmented Reality 1%
  • Automated Vehicles 1%

Manufacturing leads with about 15% of firms indicating use of at least one business technology, the survey shows. Healthcare followed at 14%, information services at 12%, education at 11%, and professional services at 10%.

The lowest diffusion rates for the technologies — averaging around five percent — are in construction, agriculture, mining and utilities, management and administrative, and finance, insurance, and real estate sectors.

The industries which have the highest adoption rate for a given technology are mainly within industrial segments, the survey shows. Robotics use is highest in three manufacturing industries, with the highest rate in motor vehicle parts manufacturing (17%). Machine learning is most prevalent in metalworking machinery manufacturing (12%) and machine shops (12%). Firms in these two industries provide pre-packaged and customized software to clients, and likely embed machine learning algorithms in the software products they design to address consumer and business needs. RFID use is most common in warehousing and storage (6%).

The message from this work is that while advanced technology adoption may seem pervasive, there is a vast landscape of businesses of all types that may still be relying on simple PCs, or even pens and paper to get work done. And that means a lot of work ahead for technology proponents.


About Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is RTInsights Industry Editor and industry analyst focusing on artificial intelligence, digital, cloud and Big Data topics. His work also appears in Forbes an Harvard Business Review. Over the last three years, he served as co-chair for the AI Summit in New York, as well as on the organizing committee for IEEE's International Conferences on Edge Computing. (full bio). Follow him on Twitter @joemckendrick.

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