UK businesses risk lagging behind other countries with sluggish technology adoption

More than 50 percent of business leaders are not familiar with...

The slow rate of technology adoption amongst many UK businesses could impact their ability to compete on an international scale – that’s according to a new study by YouGov and BT. The survey of over 1,000 businesses – ranging from SMEs to large enterprises – reveals the digital immaturity of some UK businesses, driven by a lack of awareness of key emerging technologies amongst business leaders and a failure to link technology benefits with improved business performance. 

BT’s” state-of-the-nation report, “The Future In 2020 Review” , shines a light on the current take-up of digital technologies amongst UK businesses and their future investment plans, with one third having no plans to invest in new emerging tech over the next five years. Of the 14 new technologies highlighted in the survey, more than 50 per cent of business leaders – including Chief Information Officers (CIOs) – were only familiar with half of them.  Meanwhile, 40 per cent of those business leaders who have adopted new technologies worry that these have not been implemented successfully. This reveals a tech awareness problem amongst senior business and IT decision makers, which, when coupled with a digital skills gap, risks holding back the productivity and growth of UKplc. 

UK’s Digital Immaturity

The report’s findings indicate that a significant proportion of UK businesses are trailing behind in the technology innovation stakes. While more than 40 per cent of businesses have adopted VoIP, no other emerging technology has an uptake of more than 25 percent. Currently only 20 percent of businesses have embraced IoT, and roughly 30 percent of businesses believe that 5G will play a role in their future roadmap despite forecasts that 5G will add $8trn to global GDP by 2030. When asked about technology investment plans for the next five years, nearly a third said they have no plans to invest in data driven technologies such as AI and Machine Learning. 

Businesses in the medical, health and education sectors are revealed as those where the biggest gaps lie, with these industries not currently using any of the technologies listed in the study, while over a third of these have no plans to adopt them in the next five years. Unsurprisingly, IT and Telecoms tops the list for the broadest investment in innovative technologies, although this is still relatively low at 26 percent. 

An awareness gap in C-suite

The failure amongst some businesses to embrace emerging technologies can be linked to a lack of awareness, with more than 50 percent of business leaders stating that they were not aware of the technologies listed – despite the respondents sitting in a C-suite role or within a senior IT team. For instance, 31 percent said they are not aware of AI and 60 percent are not familiar with as-a-service solutions and managed security services. And, of those that have adopted new technology, 40 percent of respondents believe these are not being implemented successfully, so businesses are unable to reap the benefits of their technology investments. 

Businesses fail to link technology with commercial goals

The research also reveals that the most common reason for businesses not adopting new technology is a lack of understanding of how technology can drive improved business performance. While industry experts point to 5G and complementary tech as a key catalyst for the fourth industrial revolution and business transformation, almost half of UK’s businesses are yet to recognise the relevancy and benefits it brings to their business, rising to 57 percent for Machine Learning and AI. 

When asked about core objectives, all business leaders agreed; increasing revenue, reducing operational costs and boosting productivity are key priorities for the next three to five years. However, almost a quarter of businesses struggle to see how digital tools can power commercial performance and achieve key business objectives. 

One of the biggest barriers to technology adoption according to those surveyed is the financial climate, with 40 percent of business leaders citing that the current climate is impacting their technology strategy. Furthermore, 1 in 3 businesses expect skills shortages to hamper technology investment; even in the most digitally savvy industries such as IT and financial services, one-quarter believe that digital skills shortages pose challenges to technology adoption. In an effort to accelerate UKplc’s digital maturity, BT has launched its Skills for Tomorrowinitiative with an ambition to reach one million business owners and their employees with digital skills by 2025. 

Chris Sims, Managing Director of Commercial and Marketing, BT Enterprise’s unit said: “The research reveals that a significant proportion of UK businesses view new technologies as a cost rather than an investment to help boost growth. It’s clear that businesses need more support; whether that’s understanding what technologies to adopt, how to maximise the potential of that technology and how that translates into commercial success. 

“As the 5G network continues to roll out across the UK, it will support the delivery and uptake of other emerging technologies like IoT, AI and VR. 5G coupled with these technologies will play a critical role in fuelling the post-Covid recovery, by boosting productivity, delivering new customer experiences and creating new business models. Whilst the research suggests that uptake of emerging technology is slow, the understanding and adoption of these technologies will increase as 5G becomes more prevalent. Businesses that can harness this early on can reap significant benefits; saving time, boosting efficiencies, unlocking innovation and creating a sustainable future.”

To support businesses through their digital transformation journeys, BT is planning to launch a new Digital Health Checker for its corporate and SME customers. This will give businesses a free online assessment of their digital maturity and will help them identify the best technologies to future proof their business and position them for growth. 

Details of BT’s Digital Health Checker will be announced in due course. For more information on BT’s Skills for Tomorrow programme, please visit the website here.

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