UK businesses failing to adopt digital technologies

A digital divide is opening up across UK businesses, according to research by the CBI and IBM.

While the UK is ranked as the best country in the world for eCommerce and takes fifth place for the availability of technology, it ranks only 14th when it comes to company-level adoption of digital technology.

The research claims 55% of firms are adopting digital technologies and processes, while 45% are falling behind. Meanwhile 28% of firms who have adopted digital technologies have gone so far to invest in advanced artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies over the past year.

UK businesses are struggling with a lack of skills, connectivity and security, which are preventing them from becoming truly digital. Meanwhile, 33% of businesses do not see a clear return on their investment in technology.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: "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. While pioneering firms are seizing digital opportunities, nearly half are struggling – a growing digital divide that is threatening UK competitiveness."

The CBI recommends businesses should appoint a chief digital or chief technology officer to drive digital strategy and execution, while also increase the skills diversity of boards by drawing on the expertise of a new generation of ‘digital natives’.

Fairbairn continued: "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.

“And by harnessing the expertise of the generation at the heart of the digital revolution, firms will be better able to make the right investments for their digital future.”

David Stokes, chief executive of IBM UK and Ireland, added: "The ground is shifting beneath the feet of today’s business leaders, as digital sweeps every aspect of modern enterprise. It has left no industry or business untouched and presents huge opportunities for us all to work in innovative and more effective ways.

“As one of the leading digital economies in the world we now find ourselves with the challenge of how to sustain and grow our position and this is an opportunity that we should be hugely excited to face."