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Digital adoption is the key to rebuilding after COVID-19

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Felicity Burch

Director of Digital and Innovation, CBI

COVID-19 has seen many businesses fundamentally change how they operate. Firms are embracing innovation as never before.

COVID-19 has seen many businesses fundamentally change how they operate. Firms are embracing innovation as never before, many innovating to survive. A recent Be the Business survey said businesses actioned three years of innovation plans in just three months improving their agility and resilience. This has been echoed by the stories we’ve heard from our members. From a firm moving 50% of their resources to the cloud in a matter of days to another investing in tech enabled PPE to improve employee safety.

Innovation adoption is a vital lever for improving productivity and international competitiveness. And, as the UK attempts to get itself back on its feet, there is an opportunity to grasp these benefits with both hands to drive recovery. But supporting businesses to adopt technologies is a long-term effort.

The CBI has outlined four steps government can take to help maintain momentum, embedding innovation adoption to ensure businesses not only survive but thrive, supporting jobs and growth.

Finance comes first

Many businesses face a huge dilemma. While they know investing in digital solutions is key to future success, they are facing depleted coffers. With limited resources at their fingertips the Government must look at how financial incentives can be used to spur firms to take up readily available technology. Whether through direct grants or tax relief, it is vital that businesses, and especially SMEs, are supported so they can continue to innovate.

It’s time to upskill on digital

Digital skills are a valuable currency. People are at the heart of any successful digital transformation –their ideas and skills make it work. But the UK digital skills pipeline is straining under pressure. Demand outstrips supply, creating talent gaps negatively impacting innovation. Consequently, a major generational reskilling will be required to plug the gap.

Over 11 million people in the UK still lack basic digital skills according to the Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index Survey. The UK needs a world-class skills system that prepares people for jobs in technology and innovation and helps companies to hire people with the skills needed to build back better. Extending government support for data science and AI conversion courses, while transforming job centres into jobs and skills hubs to help people into digital careers are just two ideas.

Helping business go gigabit

As COVID-19 has made abundantly clear, fast and reliable digital connectivity is essential for any successful digital transformation. Businesses are more reliant than ever upon the UK’s broadband networks. Connecting with customers, adopting remote working technologies and exporting online have kept many companies going.

The priority now needs to be delivering next generation gigabit networks to every business, no matter the postcode, and updating the planning rules so shovels can get in the ground quicker. It is a must-have to make digital transformation drive the economic recovery and help UK businesses continue to compete internationally.

Procurement is a major factor

A key lesson from the crisis is what close collaboration between business and government can accomplish. Take the ventilator challenge, where industry leaders, universities and the public sector came together to deliver life-saving equipment to hospitals. When Government articulates a clear goal business will step up to meet it.

The success in this instance should facilitate a sea change to procurement process within Whitehall, with a greater focus placed on value and not simply cost. This, in turn, will help those businesses that have won contracts to adopt technologies that can be used to drive efficiencies in the delivery of public services, ultimately saving money for the taxpayer.

We have waved goodbye to business as usual

The response to COVID-19 has shown us both the possibilities of digital transformation while accentuating the gulf between where the UK is now and where it could be. A close relationship between business and Government has never been more crucial to tackle the big challenges we face, whether climate, health or economic. One thing we can say with certainty, is that greater innovation will make tackling them easier.

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