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UK PLC : A 'Digital Divide', Says CBI

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 12:05 AM

It has been an open secret. But now  the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)  - under the leadership of its first female Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, has called it out.

CBI Director General: Carolyn Fairbairn

A digital divide is opening up across the British economy, with just over half (55%) of “pioneer” firms adopting digital technologies and processes, while the other half (45%) are falling behind, says new research by the CBI and IBM.


"Despite the UK taking top place globally for e-commerce and 5th place for the availability of technology, it ranks only 14th in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology, with many companies struggling to digitise their businesses at the rate of peers in other countries" it adds.


Companies cite a mix of connectivity challenges and security concerns as barriers to digital adoption. "But predominantly they are hindered by a lack of appropriate skills inside their business (42% of firms) and an unclear return on investment (33%)", it suggests.


The problem, according to the CBI, is not lack of conviction about the potential impact.

Nearly all firms, it says,  believe that digital technology has the ability to revolutionise the business landscape, driving productivity (94%), growth and job creation, and almost three quarters (73%) see improved customer satisfaction and experience as its biggest benefit.

But its findings suggest there has been a paralysis of inaction. This 'digital divide' means that while more than a quarter, or 28%, of so-called 'pioneer' firms have invested in advanced artificial intelligence and cognitive technoogies over the past year, only 9% of the businesses on the other side have done so.

On the other hand, some comfort: 16% plan to do so in the next year.

The CBI has some practical help at hand. In order to take advantage of digital technology across the economy, it recomends that firms:

1. appoint a Chief Digital or Technology Officer to the senior executive  team to drive digital strategy and execution


2.  increase the age and skills diversity of boards and board advisers, drawing on the expertise of a new generation of 'digital natives.'

“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" says Ms Fairbairn.

'Givng digital a human face' sounds like an excellent plan, going forward.

Because it seems as if UK plc is stuck in a time warp: one that is marginally more obsessed possibly with Brexit  - than it is with the digital reality of doing business in 2016.

In between the two, there remains the problem of siloed businesses and possibly - siloed boardrooms?

Categories: Governance, Investors, Technology