Can the UK leapfrog into the lead? 

Published Monday 6th November, 2017 by Gordon Wilson

At the CBI Annual Conference today, the CBI sent out a rallying call of action to business leaders to ensure the UK unites behind a ‘leapfrog’ industrial strategy to win in the technology age. Its message was to ensure Brexit did not crowd out the opportunity for the UK to take pole position in the fourth industrial revolution in which we are living. And the rewards could be significant - reversing the UK’s poor record in productivity, resulting in rising living standards and creating a fairer society.

Indeed, Paul Drechsler, president of the CBI, yesterday warned businesses in his Sunday Times’ article, that “British businesses are at risk of taking their eye off the UK’s other priorities such as the skills and infrastructure they need to transform the economy.” 

But it was also honest in the raft of challenges this will deliver – for example, as many as 35% of jobs may be reclaimed by automation and artificial intelligence (AI). However, just last week in New York in a presentation to 300 Wall Street analysts, there was a strong indication that although jobs would be lost, there would be a net gain of many other jobs created. With this brings a need for all to grasp this as an opportunity, rather than a threat, and begin the transformation journey of rethinking business and careers now, in the present.

This is something I feel very passionate about. Technology can and must be a force for good for Britain. We have an incredible chance to leapfrog the country into a leadership position. Whilst jobs will be lost, new jobs will also be created - as in every revolution. But we have to be brutally honest - it’s time for tough and bold decisions. Boards and leaders need courage and vision to get to grips with this digital era, reimagining their future and creating new business models to retain a competitive edge - or they’ll risk being left behind.

Workers too must be bold and ensure they step out of their comfort zones to grasp new opportunities – to invest time and energy in training for digital skills such as via apprenticeship opportunities, as they too face transformational career journeys. The reality is that unless businesses adapt and transform now, Britain will never be head and shoulders above its global counterparts and be open for business

The CBI’s proposed creation of regional industrial strategies maps on to our very own commitment to regional hubs – in the south, Birmingham and north west – and we absolutely unite behind the CBI’s drive to create a ‘leapfrog’ industrial strategy, for businesses to compete and win by acting with pace.

As a technology leader, we will do everything we can to help businesses transform their organisations during this journey, embrace digital technology and make the tough decisions needed to ensure they stay ahead. With 20,000 British customers across the country, we believe we can help to champion business.

What’s encouraging is the alignment in our own Annual Trends Report 2017 that is launching today – read more here. The results of the CBI’s survey reflect many of the findings from our survey of over 1,000 business professionals. But it’s worrying that nearly one third of business professionals are concerned that leaders aren’t fit to run modern digital infrastructures and it is shocking that such a significant percentage aren’t prepared for a cyber security breach or GDPR (18% and 25% respectively). It’s time businesses get focused on such real and present threats of the fourth industrial revolution and turn these into opportunities rather than get hoodwinked by issues out of their control like Brexit.

Today’s CBI Annual Conference once again provides a welcome forum for gaining insight from some of the most forward-thinking business leaders both in the UK and beyond. We’re looking forward to debating and discussing some of the most pressing issues facing businesses today. But let’s be certain – we need business leaders to seize the opportunity that automation and new technologies such as AI can bring. We need to ensure we make the fourth industrial revolution – the digital era in which we are living – the platform from which to re-launch Britain as a leading nation and deliver opportunities for organisations across the UK. 

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