This is the year to go for growth. As the economy rebounds and begins to pull ahead, the company that skills up and re-engineers for growth is the company poised for early returns.
The small business bold enough to invest now in enabling its workforce to work more flexibly and embrace digital technology is likely to reap the highest returns. Technology is the great enabler in this and need not be seen as something to be feared. One of the striking things when we took our Big Digital Skills Tour around the country last year was the large number of entrepreneurs who were yet to grasp the ways in which digital know-how could act as a catalyst for growth.
The benefits are real and diverse. Driving your business online will secure a bigger customer base, greater audience reach and a lower cost base. Investing early in growth and technology can reduce your company’s outlay and secure even higher returns.
The wider gains could be just as startling. The UK technology sector is already growing faster than Silicon Valley - the home of Google, Apple and Facebook – despite Apple’s recent results. By seizing the momentum of the economic rebound we see huge potential for accelerated growth across Britain.
The UK private sector is almost exclusively made up of SMEs. They are a critical part of UK Plc’s success. The latest figures show that the annual income of small businesses grew by 7.4% in 2014. That’s the highest rate of growth for more than 14 years. Businesses which seize the digital challenge will do even better.
What is clear is that no business can afford to be offline these days
The leap across the digital divide may seem daunting to some, but it needn’t be so. There are plenty of free online tools to help with uptake. Our Big Digital Skills Hub was set up specifically to give businesses the confidence and technical ability to let them use social media to boost their business or to develop websites driving the organisation forward.
Sometimes it is quite literally child’s play. We are enormously proud of the Digital Youth Council programme which we devised to gain a better understanding of the digital needs in the classroom. Our pupil panel has given us real insight and has inspired us to improve the digital experience for children across the country.
The pupils have devised smart wristbands designed to help with the daily register and to make sure that they take the right books to the right lessons and arrive at school with the right kit. They have informed cyber security drills. But most of all, they have shown us immense faith in their own ideas and the ability to go for it.
It’s a lesson that many small and medium sized businesses could well heed in the digital arena. In 2014, coding was added to the National Curriculum. This is a huge milestone for technology in education but it is just the start of the journey. Many of the jobs our children will eventually have don’t even exist today. Technology will play a fundamental role in preparing for the jobs of the future.
What is equally clear is that no business can afford to be offline these days. Having an online presence is as critical as having a good reputation. A business that is responsive online, informative on its webpage and has good SEO will stay front of mind for current and prospective customers.
Technology is ultimately about empowering people, the businesses they run and the services we all need. Let 2015 be the year we cast off our fears and take the leap across the digital divide.