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The Digital Business Report 2020

The Digital Business Report 2020 – based on an annual independent survey commissioned by Advanced – explores the future of digital transformation as organisations try to deal with the impact of Covid-19, look towards recovery and adapt to new ways of working.


As our previous trend reports have shown, organisations are already investing in technology to drive productivity, insight and innovation. However, this year, the pandemic has tested the many new and existing technologies that organisations have in place. The pandemic has imposed huge changes to the way we work, and highlighted the lack of tools or prior technology investment required to support a virtual mobile workforce. More than ever, technology is becoming vital in enabling people to work remotely and carry on doing their job effectively from home, as well as connecting teams and workers with their managers without disruption.

Our latest report highlights how Covid-19 has affected both technology adoption and workforce performance. It also looks to the future - examining how organisations will adapt their digital transformation efforts. As always, we provide key takeaways to help businesses move forward confidently.

We all know Covid-19 has brought profound changes to the way we live and work. And, as a provider of business software to more than 20,000 customers, we know how challenging moving to the ‘new normal’ will be. In fact, 42% of our survey respondents say cash flow and survival will be their single biggest challenge in the next 12 months. Now is the time to prioritise recovery, and recognise that accelerating digital transformation will be a key part of this.

“Investment in technology will be critical as the UK builds back better and increases resilience against any other long-term disruptions.”



Josh Hardie, Deputy-Director General, CBI


The road to resilience and recovery

Every organisation has been grappling with being responsive, agile and ultimately staying afloat during the current crisis. With countries forced into lockdown over a number of weeks and months, many organisations have had no choice but to ask their staff to work from home or, worse still, pause trading altogether.

During this unprecedented time it has enabled the Cloud to prove its worth. The technology has come into its own during the unforeseen demands of 2020. After all, Cloud-based business software is built to drive team collaboration, and it gives staff instant access to the tools and information they need anywhere and at any time. It’s therefore encouraging to see that 57% of organisations now have a Cloud strategy in place, according to our survey, which is an increase of 8% from 49% last year.

Organisations that have adopted a Cloud-first strategy would likely have been better prepared to deal with the challenges around lockdown – as long as their expectations for what the technology can deliver have been met. Our research shows that, in some areas, the Cloud has definitely lived up to expectations. In fact, 37% say productivity benefits are what they hoped for (an increase from 30% last year), along with mobile working at 34%, up from 21%, and speed of implementation which has risen from 16% to 22%. While these figures are still low, we can expect them to rise further as organisations look to the Cloud as part of their recovery.

Interestingly, only 40% of organisations have a digital HR strategy in place, which we anticipate will increase over the coming weeks and months in response to the workforce management demands of Covid-19. The use of technology systems and tools to manage employees is critical, but even more so in the current crisis. Employees have been working from home, some have been self-isolating and many have been furloughed. This unsurprisingly becomes incredibly difficult for HR teams to keep on top of without the right technology to help streamline this process.

Arguably, one of the biggest surprises in our report is that just 30% use team collaboration software at a time when people are working remotely. We’ve seen an explosion in the use of tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, but this low figure suggests staff are still depending on traditional forms of communication like email. This lack of online collaboration can significantly impact productivity levels, and with employees potentially sharing and storing sensitive company information on their individual laptops rather than on a shared platform would undoubtedly increase the security risk to this data.

The lack of integration between business software also thwarts productivity. Teams continue to work in siloes, which makes it difficult to improve efficiencies and for leaders to look at the business as a whole. Only 28% of respondents say all of their software packages integrate with each other, and only 58% say core functions like finance and HR are integrated. It’s perhaps no surprise that a lack of integration has held 45% back from successful digital transformation during lockdown. Similarly, 43% say it’s held the teams back from doing their jobs effectively during this time.

“Throughout this unprecedented crisis, digital technology has been a lifeline, helping to keep business operations going and protecting jobs. As firms slowly and securely get back to work, investment in technology will be critical as the UK builds back better and increases resilience against any other long-term disruptions.”
Josh Hardie, Deputy-Director General, CBI

TAKEAWAY: Organisations with digital transformation programmes in place will be better able to recover from Covid-19. However, before looking at implementing new tools and technologies, it’s important to first review what you already have in place. Which software and systems are enabling the change in working practices? And are they being used by staff to their maximum potential?

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“Over the last few months we have seen digital transformations that would have taken years, or not happened at all, become a reality in a matter of weeks.”



Vinous Ali, Associate Director of Policy, techUK


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The workforce of the future

As we enter the business recovery phase, organisations are now reflecting on the last few months and examining the lessons learned as a result of the pandemic. As Covid-19 has forced many of them to service their customers remotely, with staff working from home, it’s clear the future workforce will look very different.

The crisis has certainly helped organisations recognise the benefits of technology in managing the short and long term effects on the workforce. In fact, 42% say future changes in working practices are triggering new software and technology purchases. The productivity of the workforce and the possibility of a future crisis or pandemic have also been key purchasing triggers, both at 32%.

However, it’s concerning that only 38% say a positive user experience should be inherent in their business software. Surely this should be a top priority if organisations are implementing technology to improve the way people work? If staff don’t buy into the tools in use then the chances are they will find their own solutions – potentially creating further headaches around productivity and even security. This calls for organisations to create a technology culture that supports and enhances a new way of working.

What’s more, only 29% think their business software should inherently integrate all the data within these applications. Again, integration is imperative when we consider that departments traditionally work in siloes, and people could be working from multiple locations for the foreseeable future. Integration between software is essential in enabling collaboration, but also in giving leadership teams a real-time view of the entire business. Quite simply, it can no longer be optional.

What we can see from the survey is that Covid-19 is forcing businesses to refocus their priorities, with their workforce at the heart of future success, which is really encouraging. Just over half (52%) say remote working has increased as a business priority because of the pandemic, followed by employee physical and mental wellbeing (51%) and greater employee trust (41%).

It’s also clear that Covid-19 will transform working life as we know it. Most respondents (60%) agree the workforce of the future will use remote working, with the systems being Cloud-based to liberate employees and enable them to do their work from anywhere. What’s more, 46% believe the current crisis will eventually change working practices for the better.

“Over the last few months we have seen digital transformations that would have taken years, or not happened at all, become a reality in a matter of weeks. As we move forward, it’s important that we take a moment to evaluate the changes we’ve made to ensure that, as we build on these changes, we keep user experience and productivity front and centre. This survey demonstrates we can’t take this for granted and offers business an opportunity to re-examine their digital strategy for the long-term.”
Vinous Ali, Associate Director of Policy, techUK

TAKEAWAY: Imagine what the future of your workforce looks like, and whether the current crisis will change your organisation’s working practices going forward. Create, or update your digital strategy with people (your best assets) firmly at the heart of it. Find out what tools you can implement to enable remote working and ensure autonomy, while supporting the health and wellbeing of your staff.






Taking leadership

We all recognise the importance of leadership in a crisis. Covid-19 has swiftly highlighted the need for leaders to be decisive and confident, as well as be prepared to act fast. During this pandemic, we have seen that standing still is simply not an option, and organisations have raced to implement technology to enable remote working. In fact, 45% of those surveyed said they have increased spending on technology business software tools during the pandemic.

That said, more than a quarter of respondents (28%) do not think their leadership team is moving fast enough to keep up with changing technology requirements following the disruption from Covid-19. This is worrying as the current crisis has showed businesses the need to adapt and act with pace, which should always be led from the top.

What’s more, leaders should be engaging with employees early on if they are to understand their pain points in their new working practices. This will help managers better understand which tools will enable their team to be most effective. It’s therefore disappointing that 29% say their leadership team is not communicating with the rest of the workforce early enough when choosing new technology.

Is it because there is no clear leader in making technology decisions, or because technology is not recognised by the board as an important business issue? Our research suggests both are true.

Chief Technology Officers (CTOs), it seems, are increasingly taking a back seat when it comes to influencing a company’s decision to adopt technology. Only 34% are now guiding these decisions, down from 41% last year, meaning Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Managing Directors are more likely than any other role to take the lead. It suggests that, for 37% of organisations, discussions around technology are taking place at the top of the boardroom but there’s still a long way to go.

Interestingly, we could be seeing the steady rise of the Digital Transformation Officer (DTO), which has increased from 21% to 25%. While this position is not entirely new, the DTO’s role is dedicated to accelerating digital transformation and driving change across the entire workforce. Of course, some organisations might not have the resources to employ a DTO, so may choose to outsource digital transformation projects to a third party with deep expertise in technology and change.

TAKEAWAY: Digital transformation is a business issue and must have a permanent place in the boardroom. Appoint a digital pioneer in your leadership team to take responsibility for technology adoption and change. They will need to lead the creation of a technology culture that supports your new way of working. If you don’t have enough resources, outsource some of the work to a supplier that has relevant expertise, both in back-office and market-specific technologies.

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“In a complex security landscape, organisations must protect both users and devices through an integrated and intelligent approach to security that is powered by AI and the Cloud.”



Mark Hawkins, Microsoft 365 Business Group Manager, Microsoft UK


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Prioritising security

With any technology implementation, there is one thing that organisations mustn’t ignore – and that’s security. Cyber criminals continue to exploit vulnerabilities and weaknesses in IT software and systems. And they’re targeting organisations of all sizes. A separate report from Hiscox reveals an increase in reported cyber-attacks year-on-year among medium-sized businesses (36% to 63%), while the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says small firms are suffering close to 10,000 attacks daily.

It’s therefore shocking that only 56% of our survey respondents admit to having a security strategy in place, which is only a slight increase from 53% last year. It’s also worrying when we consider that small to medium-sized businesses are often targets for attacks in a larger organisation’s supply chain. In fact, it has become such a concern that the FBI recently issued a security alert to the US private sector about a hacking campaign targeting software supply chain companies.

So, while it’s positive that 61% think their organisation’s supply chain is doing enough to support its cyber security efforts, this figure should undoubtedly be higher. All businesses must perform due diligence with every third party provider they choose to work with, and ensure they have a cybersecurity strategy.

Again, as organisations begin to look to adopt technology to enable the future workforce, which will include remote working, we can expect security to become a higher business priority. The challenge, though, is balancing digital transformation with security, which 52% currently say is difficult. The reality is that the two go hand in hand. A focus on security is a key business enabler as it demonstrates to employees, customers and key stakeholders that organisations are taking it seriously.

Cyber security is also imperative as organisations look to adopt innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents say they are concerned that cyber criminals could be using these same innovative digital technologies in order to gain unauthorised access to their company’s systems or data. And, according to a separate report from Forrester, eight out of ten security decision makers think that AI-supercharged attacks are inevitable. Organisations will need to keep pace with these threats.

“In a complex security landscape, organisations must protect both users and devices through an integrated and intelligent approach to security that is powered by AI and the Cloud. Implementing the right technology solutions to suit business and end user needs is paramount to foster secure collaboration in ways that are demanded by this new era of hybrid working.”
Mark Hawkins, Microsoft 365 Business Group Manager, Microsoft UK

TAKEAWAY: While the road to recovery requires organisations to look to technology, it mustn’t be done at the expense of security. You could be a target for cyber criminals, so make sure you are implementing the right security measures to support your new working practices. Also, work with your existing and new technology partners to understand what security measures they have in place.






The generation gap

Most organisations now employ five generations of workers – Traditionalists (born before 1945), Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Millennials (born 1981-1994) and Generation Z (born after mid-1995). It’s therefore vital to review the differences in their experiences in this report. After all, each generation has varying levels of technology expectation, experience and knowledge.

In some areas, the differences are stark too. Only 19% of Generation Z workers, for example, say security should be inherent in all the business software they use, compared to 62% for the over 55s. It suggests the younger generation are likely to be less concerned about security – potentially seeing it as someone else’s job – and more concerned around what the technology can actually do.

Quite simply, they want tools and technologies that are intuitive and simple to use. However, 51% of Generation Z workers say product complexity is the biggest barrier to successful digital transformation, compared to 36% on average for all other age groups. Integration is seen as a barrier too, with 51% of Generation Z blaming a lack of integration between their organisation’s business software for holding them and their team back from doing their job effectively during lockdown. It clearly demonstrates the need for organisations to prioritise usability and connectivity.

That’s not to say that organisations aren’t trying. Around half (51%) of Generation Z workers say the crisis has triggered the new purchase of technology. However, just 2% of them say the productivity of the workforce has triggered these purchases (compared to 47% for the over 55s). What’s more, only 16% feel remote working has increased as a business priority because of Covid-19, compared to 33% for all other generations. Similarly, a mere 9% of Generation Z say their organisation prioritises the ability to work remotely when choosing new technology (compared to 27% for over 55s).

It could mean Generation Z workers are dissatisfied with the technology measures implemented during lockdown. Organisations need to ensure remote working is high up on the business agenda, and that the right equipment is in place to drive productivity and collaboration, especially when we consider that Generation Z will eventually make up a large portion of the future workforce.

The Cloud is a key enabler for remote working but, right now, it’s not living up to the expectations of the younger generation. Shockingly, just 10% say the Cloud has delivered a greater user experience and it’s the same number for speed of implementation too, which we’d expect to be much higher. It suggests there is a serious disconnect between technology and the people it’s intended for.

All of these generational differences could have damaging consequences in the long-term. We could see Generation Z workers become increasingly frustrated in their organisation and, once the job market picks up, chances are they will find somewhere else that is offering the right business tools.

TAKEAWAY: Maximise the inherent digital skills of your future workforce – Generation Z. Listen to their frustrations and encourage them to help influence decisions on which technologies can transform their working practices for the better.

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About Advanced

We are the third largest British software and services company in the UK. We help organisations create the right digital foundations that drive productivity, insight and innovation – all while remaining safe, secure and compliant.

We enable our customers to achieve increased efficiencies, savings and growth opportunities through focused, right-first-time software solutions that evolve with the changing needs of their business and the markets they operate in.

Our solutions for both commercial and public sector organisations simplify business challenges and deliver immediate value, positively impacting millions of people’s lives.

We have a strong track record in helping our customers journey to the Cloud. We manage private, public and hybrid Cloud environments, as well as deliver sector specific Cloud-based solutions and services. We are certified partners with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, and have achieved the highest levels of accreditations.

Our Cloud solutions are used by organisations of all shapes and sizes including Highways England, PRS for Music and Aspire Furniture.


The Digital Business Report 2020 research was carried out online by Research Without Barriers – RWB – between 29 June and 6 July 2020. The sample comprised 507 senior decision makers working in organisations in the UK with an approximately 50% level split between Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and large organisations (i.e. 276 senior decision makers are working in organisations with 10-250 employees and 254 in organisations with 250 employees or above).