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UK firms risk 'digital divide'

News, 22 April 2016

LONDON: A "digital divide" is opening up in the UK between 55% of pioneering companies that have adopted digital technologies and processes, and the remaining 45% who are falling behind, a new report has warned.

Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the UK's main employers' organisation, and tech giant IBM, revealed that firms see a mix of connectivity issues and security concerns as barriers to digital adoption.

But their biggest problems centre around a lack of appropriate skills (42%) and unclear return on investment (33%) rather than a lack of conviction about digital's potential impact.

Nearly all companies that took part in the survey believe that digital technology has the ability to revolutionise the business landscape and around three-quarters (73%) see improved customer satisfaction and experience as digital's biggest benefit.

However, even though the UK is ranked as the best country in the world for e-commerce and is placed fifth for the availability of technology, the country ranks only 14th in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology.

The findings prompted the CBI to recommend that companies appoint a chief digital or technology officer to the senior management team to drive digital strategy and operations.

In addition, the CBI urged firms to increase the age and diversity of their boards and advisers, so they can draw on the expertise of a new generation of "digital natives".

"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," said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI.

"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," she added.

Echoing Fairbairn's remarks, David Stokes, chief executive of IBM UK and Ireland, said: "As one of the leading digital economies in the world, the UK finds itself with a tremendous opportunity and responsibility for business leaders to sustain and grow our leadership in the world.

"This is an opportunity that we in the business community should be hugely excited to face together."

Data sourced from CBI; additional content by Warc staff