This week saw 8,000 business leaders from across the globe gather for the CBI Annual Conference, 2020, with the big difference this year, of course, being that this was the first time the audience - and many of the speakers – were gathered virtually, in the comfort of their own homes, gaining insight and education from political and business leaders on our collective response to the pandemic over video.

Despite the pandemic, the show went on, and the CBI did a superb job of bringing together 40 world-class speakers, ably supported by its sponsors, among which I’m proud to count Advanced.  Indeed, under the banner of ‘Build Back Better,’ eminent politicians and economists led insightful sessions over the course of three days. We heard how business can help shape a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and how we can position the UK as a trading powerhouse on the global stage leaving attendees in no doubt about this great country’s potential for a strong recovery.  

So what were the main themes to emerge from these sessions?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson summed up many of the themes in his short address on the final day:

Businesses, he said, will drive recovery and create jobs supported by the Government. With better infrastructure and better education, and with investment in ever-better technology the platform and environment for growth and investment will be created.

Specifically, Mr Johnson spoke of investment in skills and in addressing the ‘yawning gap’ – so big and so unnecessary – in the productivity of cities and regions in the UK. As a business with a headquarters – and as a significant employer – in Birmingham, for example, we are keen to work with the Government and other businesses in the Midlands to position the region as the hub for technology. 

More than ever, we all need to come together to support businesses in scaling up through the recovery phase and beyond, and it’s technology providers like Advanced that can step up and help. Technology is absolutely vital – we’ve seen its impact since the start of the pandemic and will continue to see its role during the second lockdown. This emphasis on the importance of technology was backed up in our recent annual Trends Report, which we announced during the CBI Conference. We gave over 1,000 senior business decision makers across the UK the chance to have their say on the technology trends and their impact on UK organisations now, and in the future.  Some of the key findings included:

  • 77% believe one of the legacies of Covid-19 will be for their organisation to shift to a digital first mindset
  • 54% say business survival during and post Covid-19 will be their spending priority for the next 12 months, on a par with prioritising cloud software and other technology (59%)
  • 98% agree technology will play a major role in the global economic recovery
  • 65% say their colleagues within the organisation are either keen to adopt, or open to discovering, new technology – showing there is an appetite for the workforce to use new technology.

As Gavin Patterson, President and Chief Revenue Office of Salesforce, so bluntly stated: if you haven’t got a digitalisation strategy as a business by now, you’re probably not going to have a business in 12 months’ time. 

So we were encouraged by the Government’s plans to work with businesses to lay future foundations and, although the plans are not clear currently, I believe we are heading in the right direction.  Schemes like Advanced’s £1 million Cloud fund to support UK businesses who want to access Cloud solutions will aid business recovery and ensure they are fit for the future and we’d encourage other technology organisations to consider similar support offers.

We were also encouraged by the Government and businesses stating the importance of supporting the millennial generation. It’s a generation twice as likely to have suffered job losses during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also a generation that attaches high value to social purpose. These young people will be the ones to help pivot organisations to that digital-first mindset so crucial for future success.  Their needs, therefore, must be acted upon. The humanisation of the workforce is here to stay and the biggest payback any organisation will have is from its investment in people.

As Dame Carolyn Fairbairn explained, we’ve referred to people as ‘resources’ for too long and this needs to change. Building back better has to happen. Asking key questions such as how proud are your employees of your organisation? Closing the gender pay gap is important, but strides need to be made to achieve similar results with the ethnicity and disability pay gap, as well as organisations’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) policies.

We welcome the Government’s plans for investment in skills for workers of all ages but also urge organisations to look after their people in ways beyond skills and pay. 

These are tough times but, to reference an anecdote quoted by the Prime Minister during the CBI, which came from a man who opened the world’s biggest (and perhaps only!) underground trampolining centre in a disused Welsh coalmine: “No matter how deep the hole you think you’re in, you can always bounce out of it.”

Against all odds, the CBI ‘show’ went on this week, and business must go on too.

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Gordon Wilson

Gordon Wilson

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Chief Executive Officer, Advanced

Having joined the company in September 2015 with a track record in leading business growth, Gordon has since driven the successful transformation of Advanced.

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