Is Scotland on track to be a European leader in AI? - Stuart Chalmers

No previous technology has captured the attention of leaders and the general public as fast as generative AI – which has the potential to transform 40 per cent of all working hours. In June, Accenture pledged to invest $3 billion in AI expanding our data & AI practice and solutions for clients. This investment includes offering new industry solutions and pre-built models that will help companies across 19 industries drive value.

For Scotland, the Accenture/ S&P Global UK Business Outlook report shows that businesses are planning to increase their investment in technology with a focus on AI, following the global trend. Business confidence in the nation also remains higher than the European average, painting an optimistic picture of the nation’s potential to grow into a thriving AI hub if growth continues as predicted in the coming years.

Through our work with businesses across Scotland, the UK, and the world, we’re already seeing organisations experiment with generative AI in areas such as customer service and their operational processes. The country’s strong digital technology sector – forecast to contribute £7.7 billion GVA to Scotland’s economy by 2032 – places it in good stead to become a UK beacon for data and AI with the right moves by business leaders. Edinburgh has already laid the groundwork to enable this. The latest SAS-AI Cities Index named the Scottish capital the most AI-ready city in the UK outside London.

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Many businesses are planning to look to technology to reinvent their organisations and provide productivity gains to help manage the inflationary economic environment. Business leaders must now build on Edinburgh’s strong track record for attracting digital technology investment to keep the sector growing. This means turning their focus to more than just investment into technology:

Stuart Chalmers, joint managing director, Accenture ScotlandStuart Chalmers, joint managing director, Accenture Scotland
Stuart Chalmers, joint managing director, Accenture Scotland

Ensuring leaders understand the value of data and AI

Edinburgh should leverage its enterprise technology success story to make Scotland an AI hub. This will require continuous upskilling of key players across these industries.

Leaders from the board down must understand the value of data and its potential to drive competitive advantage. Technology literacy is essential at all levels, and with the gathering speed of developments, organisations must invest in ongoing training to keep pace with demand.

Continuing to attract the right talent

AI has the potential to transform 40 per cent of all working hours (Picture: ipopba - has the potential to transform 40 per cent of all working hours (Picture: ipopba -
AI has the potential to transform 40 per cent of all working hours (Picture: ipopba -

Although graduate retention in Edinburgh is high, it’s not enough to satisfy growing demand. World-class universities offer data science, cybersecurity, and AI courses across Scotland. However, it’s important to align digital and data skills with business needs. Closer collaboration between businesses and institutions will ensure graduate talent pools are work-ready for these specialisms.

Organisations should also look to non-traditional routes to attract talent and upskill their people in important realms of AI.

Sharing growth with other Scottish cities

Edinburgh is not the only Scottish city with strong technological potential. By recognising Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, and St Andrews as other centres of excellence - we contextualise Edinburgh as the data capital of a digitally focused nation. Within a shared ecosystem, entrepreneurs and business leaders feel empowered to learn, collaborate, innovate and grow.

The same can be said for Scotland’s relationship with the global AI industry. It’s now up to business leaders to invest in upskilling, talent, and shared ecosystem creation to nurture meaningful growth to its transformative potential. This is the key to making Scotland a European leader in data and AI.

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