The UK’s biggest report on tech in business is back. But will this year be drastically different to last? Take a look at our key findings for every type of business. What tech is on the up? And what’s being ignored? It’s all here for you to dive into.

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the business landscape. But the opportunities to build a brighter future using emerging technology have never been greater.

In 2020, UK businesses went through extremely challenging times. The pandemic changed the landscape for organisations of all sizes, and forced them to focus on the need to keep their operations going.

But through chaos comes opportunity. And that’s what we’ve seen highlighted in our annual survey for business leaders: The Future in 2021.

We’ve also put together three infographics with our key findings for different business sizes:

There’s plenty to indicate UK plc has a unique opportunity to build from the experience of 2020 to create a 21st-century economy to benefit us all.

With fewer businesses solely thinking about surviving, they’re now turning their attentions to longer-term ambitions – including the adoption of emerging technologies like 5G.

The survey found that more business leaders are recognising how technology can help them succeed. For instance, almost a third see how AI can help increase productivity, while 29% see how AR and VR can optimise the customer experience.

Here, you’ll find a snapshot of our full report, including key learnings and headlines from The Future in 2021 survey.

Recognising the power of emerging technologies

Emerging technology can transform a business’s fortunes – whether big or small. This year, we’ve seen that many leaders recognise the power of emerging tech to help them achieve their goals. For instance, 35% of respondents to our survey see 5G as an enabler of flexible working. And in the public sector, 76% have adopted at least one of our 14 technologies.

Interestingly, others still don’t see the benefits of specific technologies for their own business. This perceived lack of relevance is higher among small and medium-sized companies. SME leaders were the most likely to say that the technology in our survey is “not right for them” (54%). Why? Research shows that small businesses often find tech information too confusing . And that more can be done to support small business leaders to grasp the transformative potential of these technologies. Especially when they’re clearly eager to do so.

Our survey has found that leaders from SMEs are the most likely to embrace change. They’re also often the least affected by organisational issues such as lack of skilled personnel. This puts them in the ideal position to take a greater lead and drive forward future change. Because there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us: when a need is clearly understood, UK companies have proven themselves adept at embracing technology to drive change.

Shifting from survival mode to long-term thinking

35% of business leaders who completed our survey see 5G as an enabler of flexible working, while 26% say voice over IP (VoIP) can help them reduce costs. But that doesn’t always translate into concrete investment – more than a third of leaders still have no plans to invest in emerging tech in the next five years. 

After 12 months of leaders focusing on keeping their businesses going, it’s great to hear that much of UK plc is now focused on the next stage of their tech development. And in this spirit, our survey does show plenty of cause to be optimistic about tech investment in the future.

More than two thirds of the leaders we interviewed told us they have a planned tech strategy in place for the next five years. 

But a significant portion of UK businesses aren’t there yet. More than 30% of the business leaders we spoke to said they had little or no five-year plan in place. Again here, that number skews mostly towards smaller businesses. 

That’s where we’ll see the value of a partner and vendor ecosystem. One that can help SMEs make sure they have the investments and strategies in place. And make sure they emerge strongly into the next few years.

Plugging the growing skills gap

Many leaders see ‘insufficient internal skills’ as the main challenge over the next five years. Numbers are particularly high in the public sector (35%) and among SMEs (31%). Skills gaps appear in the areas of system integration, product development, and automation. 

It’s why many leaders want to build their companies around technology specialists.  

But hiring the right people is challenging. As the Institute of Directors reports, many companies claim Brexit is making things harder when it comes to hiring . In July this year, the CBI even called on the government to relax its immigration policy to attract more foreign professionals .

To plug the skills gap, employers must now rethink the entire employee experience, and technology may be the way forward.  

Did you know: Want to better understand how emerging technologies can help you and your business? Our free online resource, Skills for Tomorrow, gives you the courses, tools, and techniques you need.

Security is as important as ever

Cyber security continues to be seen as a major threat by most of UK plc. 65% of our panel claims the threat has increased since 2020 – with particularly high rates among leaders in the public sector (69%) and at large companies (71%). Many blame this trend on the pandemic, with work-provided devices on home networks becoming a target for hacks and attacks.

However, when asked about the considerations they make when buying technology, 36% responded with ‘security’. 

The fact an overwhelming majority don’t see it as a key consideration is a potential red flag. Security must become increasingly involved in all parts of a business – influencing investment, resilience, and future strategies. According to PWC, 50% of organisations believe that cyber security will be considered in every business decision – an increase of 25% on last year .

We’ve found that this is often the case when it comes to major corporations, but not as much for SMEs. Only 32% of respondents from small companies mentioned security as their key consideration. This represented a year-on-year drop by 3% and a significant gap with the 43% of large businesses. 

The fact that small companies are also the least concerned about security – while also highly exposed to it – is concerning.

Read our report

As the country gradually re-emerges from the pandemic, it’s time to start planning for what comes next. Organisations now have a huge opportunity to build on this extraordinary period of digitalisation. And put digital technologies at the core of their future strategies.

We see great benefits, particularly for smaller businesses –  the lifeblood of the UK economy. And as we’ve seen, there’s a growing appetite towards long-term adoption of emerging technologies. But that’s just the beginning. 

Many are still unconvinced of the benefits technologies like 5G and AI can have – and that’s where we want to help. We’ve created a range of resources to help SMEs, large corporations and businesses in-between understand the potential of emerging technologies. And how to use them.  

If you’d like to know more about our survey and read the full report, you can read it here.

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