Thanks to developments such as the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, artificial intelligence, and increasing connectivity and digitalisation, the long-term success of most businesses is dependent on having the right technology and talent in place.
Tim Vine, Global Head of Trade Credit at Dun & Bradstreet explains that this is as relevant for SMEs as it is for larger organisations as their research has found that that over half of SME business leaders believe that making the best use of technology is a fundamental part of their future success.
Technology is presenting SMEs with significant benefits, which when properly implemented can give them an advantage over competitors. From increased efficiency, security and long-term cost savings, technologies support innovation and provide solutions across all aspects of modern business operations.
One of the key findings of our report was the extent to which SMEs feel confident in the impact of technology on their bottom line. The majority of small business leaders believe technology will enable their business to generate more revenue – which is ultimately the priority for any enterprise.
However, identifying and securing the right technology and talent can be incredibly difficult; they are two of the most unpredictable elements in today’s dynamic business environment.
New and innovative technologies are being developed and introduced at an astonishing rate, making it difficult for businesses to understand what will have a positive impact on their company and what is simply more of a ‘fad’ or not as valuable to their specific activities.
What’s more, the availability of the right expertise needed to take advantage of these technologies is impacted by educational policy, immigration and population demographics.
So, what exactly are the barriers standing in the way of UK SMEs taking advantage of the skills and technologies they need, and how can they overcome these?
The barriers blocking tech adoption
When it comes to adopting new technology, cost is often the main barrier for many SMEs. Smaller organisations typically have fewer financial resources, so the huge outlay demanded by some technology implementations can be intimidating. However, there are some other concerns which have become barriers to implementing technologies, including fears about the reliability of new technology, and a reluctance to adopt technologies they aren’t sure will benefit the organisation. However, both of these concerns stem for a broader issue: a lack of skills and expertise to guide them in the right direction and gain a full understanding of the potential value each different type of technology offers to their business and their customers.
The talent trap
Skills are arguably the most significant barrier that SMEs come up against when they look to adopt new technology – a third of SMEs believe their staff do not possess the digital skills necessary to make the most of the opportunities available. And what good is the right technology if it can’t be understood or used properly?
Clearly, a business can only reach its full potential when it has the right people on board. This means that businesses need to make recruitment of the right talent a key priority in the years ahead. Bringing skilled employees into the organisation will unlock the benefits offered by technology – and will make the organisation stronger as a whole.
Fortunately, many SMEs are already making steps to fill these skill-gaps, from upskilling initiatives and working with trusted third parties that provide expertise and consultation on technology issues. The biggest challenge to addressing skills in the workplace is identifying the talent they need in the midst of the digital skills shortage, which is set to cost the UK economy £21.8 billion over the next decade.
What’s more, recruitment is facing a challenge in the form of Brexit. Not only are many small businesses are unwilling to commit to invest in technology and recruitment due to continued uncertainty, Brexit could also impact access to the right talent in the future. If the UK continues to struggle to develop its own digital skills, businesses need to be able to look for talent abroad. Whether this will be a possibility remains to be seen.
Moving forward with the right attitude
Acknowledging the value of both technology and talent is an important first step to maximising value and supporting business growth. Identifying and working with trusted partners – such businesses who advise on cloud adoption or technology solutions they require to market themselves – is one option for SMEs to ensure they aren’t left behind by tech-savvy competitors.
Launching internal training initiatives to upskill existing IT staff is another way to ensure that an organisation doesn’t fall prey to the digital skills gap. Crucially, addressing any potential gap will help to ensure that new technologies are not only better implemented but also understood – benefiting customers, partners and suppliers.
Ultimately, a small business needs a combination of technology and talent in order to grow. Accessing the benefits of business intelligence is difficult unless the organisation possesses the right digital skills. With a technology-first mind-set in place, it’s only a matter of time before SMEs find a way around the barriers they’re facing – Brexit included.