21 April 2016 | By David Stokes Community

Digital: the new canvas for business innovation

There is a growing divide between the digitally “advanced” and those only just starting to look at the opportunities digital could present. To avoid this, we must act now

The digital wave has left no industry or business untouched in its wake. It presents huge opportunities for us all to work in more innovative and effective ways. In fact many see digital as the new canvas upon which organisations can innovate to drive new levels of growth and broader prosperity for our country.

But as one of the leading digital economies in the world, the UK and its businesses find themselves confronted with a challenge: how to sustain and grow their positions as pre-eminent digital powers.

The data-fuelled digital revolution is taking place right across the British business landscape: from the smallest local companies to the largest multinational corporations. All businesses are in the business of innovation, and there are endless opportunities available to those using new technologies and adopting the “digital by design” mantra.

But while 55 per cent of all British businesses have a long-term digital strategy for their future development, there is a widening divide opening up across the country. The remaining 45 per cent are falling further behind in their adoption of digital technologies, processes and services.

Collective shortcomings

According to new research by the CBI and IBM, 94 per cent of businesses agree that digital adoption and innovation is a principle driver for boosting productivity, and 73 per cent see improved customer satisfaction and experience as its biggest benefit. Despite such a powerful and clear business opportunity the country is still struggling to ensure digital technology is understood and taken up across all sectors of the economy, ranking only fourteenth for global company-level adoption.

While many “pioneer” companies forge ahead in digitising their businesses, a significant proportion are falling short: 42 per cent of firms cite a lack of appropriate skills inside their business, 33 per cent are unclear about return on investment, and others highlight security concerns and connectivity as key barriers.

Over half of British companies are using cutting edge technologies and processes such as cognitive to enhance their businesses. This is a significant sign of how the business world is progressing to those who are still trying to make sense of the new landscape and staff it adequately.

The recent CBI research highlights some of the main challenges that must be overcome, and making us more aware of our collective shortcomings is perhaps where it will benefit the UK economy most in the long term.

There is much to be encouraged by. This research will empower UK businesses to take a more objective look at themselves from the outside in; it will to enable them to plan for the future with more foresight; nurture the skills of their evolving workforces and thus help the UK maintain its prominent position as a key player in the global digital economy.

One thing that we simply cannot afford is for business and the wider UK economy to develop a two-tiered market, with a growing gap between the digitally “advanced” and those starting to look at the opportunities digital could present. To avoid this, we must act now.

Digital strategies are unique to each company and no two paths are the same. However, driving digital strategy at board level, fostering more inclusive digital skills adoption – rather than knowledge resting the hands of a select few – and greater collaboration between the more digitally advanced and “less mature” companies will all be fundamentally important for the UK to sustain its leadership position in the global digital economy.