British business leaders do not believe their companies are fully up to speed with developing technologies – with only around half (53%) saying they are fully utilising their technology advantage to win business, run efficient systems and attract the best talent, according to new research from ThoughtWorks. With businesses concerned about how Brexit could have an impact on data protection, changing regulation and supply chain disruption, ThoughtWorks asked a nationally representative sample of 1,026 business owners how fully they used technology to achieve growth and competitive advantage. The findings suggested that many businesses were increasingly concerned that they were falling behind in terms of technological development.
Tech agility linked to post-Brexit growth outlook
For the 47% of businesses that admitted their use of technology was not that sophisticated, 41% said they were trying to improve their business’s technological capabilities but were still in some way behind the competition. Furthermore, 6% of respondents said that their lack of technological development was holding their business back from growing.
Significantly, the level of tech agility of UK businesses correlated directly with how they thought Brexit would impact their business in 2020. Those agile, tech-driven businesses were far more likely to see Brexit as an opportunity to grow – 47% predicting growth opportunities to move into new markets and 19% believing they would be able to grow market share in existing markets. In contrast, those businesses that said their tech maturity was holding them back were far more likely to say Brexit would force them to put growth plans on hold (16%) or to downsize – and to pull out of some key markets (10%). The research suggests Brexit could be a catalyst that widens the tech gap in Britain, between those agile enterprises that will grow in 2020 and those struggling with technology that will fall further behind.
12-month business outlook following Brexit – by state of business tech agility
Bleak mid-Winter ahead for retail
With the demise of Mothercare, and Marks & Spencer reporting a fresh slump in clothing sales, ThoughtWorks’ research shows retail emerging as the sector where fewest business leaders believe they are fully using technology to win business, run efficient systems and attract the best people (35%). Linking tech agility to Brexit outlook again, retail was also the sector where most business leaders said that, in the 12-months following Brexit, they were preparing to downsize and for the prospect of losing business.
Percentage of businesses that said they are fully using their technology advantage by sector
While it is perhaps unsurprising that businesses in the media and tech sector were the most likely to say they fully utilised their technological advantage, even here more than a fifth (23%) of businesses admitted that they were behind the leaders in their market and could take steps to improve their agility.
Tech on the Tyne
The ThoughtWorks study also explored business opinion across the UK’s major cities. Whilst London and the South East have traditionally dominated the regions for tech investment – with London companies securing $4.8bn (£3.8bn) in 2018 – the new research shows that Newcastle is the city where the highest proportion of business leaders say their business makes full use of their technology assets in terms of winning business, improving systems and attracting the best people (77%). Indeed, London only just beats Birmingham into second place (66% Vs. 65%).
Tech gap in Scotland
While most cities in England and Wales (apart from Liverpool) saw at least half their businesses taking full advantage of their technology assets, businesses north of the border seemed to be lagging behind. Only 47% of businesses in Glasgow – and 42% in Edinburgh – said they were fully utilising their technology advantage. Whilst political considerations around Brexit have been a cause of acute concern in Scotland, the new research suggests tech agility is also playing a big role in shaping business outlook for the period after Brexit – with businesses in Glasgow and Edinburgh least likely of the 11 cities surveyed to predict opportunities to grow into new markets in 2020 (Glasgow 18%, Edinburgh 17%).
Percentage of businesses taking full advantage of their technology and percentage predicting growth opportunities in new markets for 2020 – by city
Luke Vinogradov, Digital Transformation Principal, ThoughtWorks commented: Surrounded by change and uncertainty, organisations are realising they may not be taking full advantage of technology. Some have yet to start, others have focussed narrowly on digital customer experience, because it’s very visible and actually it’s a great first step. However, modern digital businesses already at the top of their game know that the kind of capabilities that have driven their success don’t stop there.
Across the organisation, making tech work for you means making choices. New ways of working can align your whole business around customer value; data can help you to build engagement and advantage; platform thinking and a test-and-learn approach will maximise the impact of your investments; and a delivery mindset will help you cut through the complexity and get things done. All of these digital capabilities can help you keep up – the right balance will ensure you get ahead.
As a trusted partner for many leading organisations on their digital transformation journey, ThoughtWorks can help you make the right choices, not only addressing today’s challenges but giving you the capabilities you need for a confident future.”