The UK economy is operating within a “digital divide”, with half of businesses trailing behind a swathe of tech-savvy “pioneer” firms, according to new research.
The study, conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and tech giant IBM, found that just over half (55 per cent) of businesses are adopting innovative digital technologies and processes, leaving the remaining 45 per cent in their wake.
As a result of low uptake, Britain ranks just 14th in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology – a far cry from its pole position when it comes to e-commerce and fifth place for availability of technology.
According to the research, 42 per cent of businesses are held back by a lack of appropriate skills within their workforce, while a third (33 per cent) are unsure about how much return they will see on their investment.
But there is appetite to embrace digital innovation, with 94 per cent if companies saying they think technology can revolutionise the business landscape, boosting productivity, growth and jobs. And nearly three quarters (73 per cent) think it would prompt greater customer satisfaction.
Bring it to the board
The key for businesses to maximise on these opportunities lies in the makeup of their executive boards, the CBI said. They should include a chief tech or digital officer, as well as drawing on the expertise and input of a younger generation – so-called “digital natives”.
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “Businesses globally are in the throes of an extraordinary digital revolution that is transforming productivity and creating a new generation of winning companies.
“But in the UK, too many firms are being left behind. While pioneering firms are seizing digital opportunities, nearly half are struggling – a growing digital divide that is threatening UK competitiveness.
“It’s vital that businesses in all sectors – from manufacturing to retail – truly understand digital technology’s potential, from the boardroom to the shop or factory floor.
“Giving digital a human face by appointing a chief technology officer will help businesses build the long-term digital strategies that will be critical to their futures.
“And by harnessing the expertise of the generation at the heart of the digital revolution, firms will be better able to make the right investments for their digital future.”