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The Annual Trends Report 2019/20 Highlights

In September 2019, Advanced carried out its fourth independent Annual Trends Survey, with over 1,000 UK business professionals having their say on key topics affecting British businesses.


Our research has highlighted a number of key hurdles organisations are facing today. These include the host of mandatory regulations they are forced to contend with, as well as issues around IT spending, legacy systems, cyber security, leadership and digital skills – not to mention the distraction of Brexit.

Technology can help alleviate these pressures, so it is exciting to see businesses are starting to reap the rewards of the digital-first era – making them fit for the future and ready for these real and present business challenges.

The Trends Survey has shown the Cloud in particular is earning a reputation as the kingpin of the digital world. Meanwhile, Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and wearable technologies, as well as chatbots, are fast deserving their spot as must-have tools in the day-to-day workplace.

The following summary extracts the key findings around the technology trends identified from this year’s Trends Survey. It also provides an overview of the state of digital readiness among our respondents and examines what businesses need to do to realise the benefits of transformational technologies.

“In this digital age, the skills and competencies we have as humans will become even more important. Automation and AI will offer more opportunities to add greater human value in the workplace.”
James Hallahan, National Technology Director, Hays UK

“From streamlining internal operations to improving customer service interactions, organisations are prioritising the adoption of innovative solutions such as AI.”



Julian David, CEO, techUK



Technology has long promised to future-proof organisations, and we are now seeing the adoption of innovative solutions to meet evolving business needs. Some organisations are further ahead in the journey than others. In fact, 12 per cent of our survey respondents would describe their organisation as innovators, while 16 per cent would say their organisation is in the late majority or a laggard. However, it’s better late than never, and never too late to start.

Every business should – and can – be a digital business. It’s about finding the right technology that will meet an individual organisation’s needs, rather than choosing a technology for the sake of it.

Which of the following stages of technology adoption do you think typically describes your organisation?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q20. Which of the following stages of technology adoption do you think typically describes your orga.png

Perhaps one of the most positive changes we have seen in the four years we have been conducting our Trends Survey is the increase in adoption of innovative technologies. There is clearly a growing appetite for tools that were once within reach of only big corporates with big budgets.

Which of the following technology trends are you seeing in your daily working life?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q2. Which of the following technology trends are you seeing in your daily working life-.png

Nearly a third (29 per cent) of respondents are seeing chatbots in their daily working lives (up from 18 per cent last year), while 25 per cent are seeing wearable technology (up from 17 per cent last year). An impressive 38 per cent are seeing AI in their daily working lives – a 12 per cent increase compared to last year. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which we also refer to as automation, has seen the most remarkable change. It has increased from 11 per cent to an incredible 26 per cent.

One of the main reasons for RPA’s growth is down to technology providers ‘democratising automation’ into smaller and medium sized organisations or, in other words, lowering the cost and infrastructure barriers typically associated with RPA adoption.


“There is a mass of data but the challenge is that people are not getting round to either using it or understanding it. This presents a great opportunity for automation.”
Chris Ronan, CEO, St John’s Buildings

If a robot had access to the right business intelligence, do you believe it would be better at decision-making than your boss / senior leadership team?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q8. If a robot had access to the right business intelligence, do you believe it would be better at d.png

Just over half (51 per cent) believe a robot would be better at decision-making than their boss – a staggering 17 per cent increase compared to last year. Is this a sign of bad leadership? Or maybe it’s that technology is now more reliable and therefore able to make faster and more accurate business decisions than a senior leadership team can. After all, unlike humans, robots can operate 24/7, as well as automate a high volume of information to generate insights quickly. Could it also be down to the fact that robots are arguably unbiased and impartial?

“Our own research indicates that organisations that fail to embrace AI in production and at scale will find themselves at a significant disadvantage within the next five years.”
Alex Montgomery, Azure Product Director, Microsoft UK

TAKEAWAY: Have you determined which technology trends can transform how you do business for the better, and should you consider using robotic technology to handle some of your processes?


“Cost is a mindset. Businesses need to consider the ‘cost of doing business’ – thus evaluating the cost of modernising versus the cost of doing nothing.”



Mark Krajewski, CIO, PRS for Music




In the digital-first era, technology moves fast and businesses will fall behind if they fail to transform their existing IT infrastructure and systems to meet this pace of change. What organisations need to modernise will depend on their individual situation. It could be legacy applications written in an older language that fewer people understand, or it could be on-premise software that would have far greater benefits if it was in the public Cloud.

How often does your organisation review its IT software and services to keep up with the pace of technology innovation?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q21. How often does your organisation review its IT software and services to keep up with the pace o.png

On average, an organisation reviews its IT software and services every 17 months. Surprisingly, nine per cent are waiting three years or more, which is arguably not often enough because technology (and the people using it) can change significantly in that time.

How often businesses review technology clearly depends on contract agreements, but what this research doesn’t show us is whether these reviews actually lead to change. Are businesses identifying any challenges with their current IT software and services and then addressing them?

“What we are seeing as a result of market shifts is organisations spending time and money trying to create islands of stability within the existing ‘digital chaos’ before they contemplate a move to a truly disruptive digital transformation.”
Tola Sargeant, Managing Director, TechMarketView LLP

What would hold your organisation back from modernising its key business processes or systems with new technologies?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q6. What would hold your organisation back from modernising its key business processes or systems wi.png

Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents agreed that the biggest barrier to modernising processes or systems is cost. Disruption to staff’s day-to-day productivity trails behind at 27 per cent, followed by management being unconvinced by the recommended investment in new technology (25 per cent) and a lack of skills (20 per cent). And 16 per cent blame concerns about project delays.

These barriers clearly need to be addressed. Otherwise, organisations will continue to be deterred from transforming. The reality is that it is more expensive not to invest in modern systems, as the dependence on ageing technology and legacy applications creates problems as well as unnecessary, and often significant, cost.

“It seems many businesses are adding new software and services all of the time. The problem is that they are not taking any away which only adds complexity.”
Louise Robinson, IT Product Management Lead, CIPD

TAKEAWAY: Which software and systems do you realistically need to modernise in order to digitally transform, and what are the potential barriers that need to be addressed – and how?

“Leaders need to give the workforce the opportunity to learn about new technology.”



Martha Desmond, Chief People Officer, VetPartners



Key to every successful technology implementation is leadership. Senior leaders need to be digitally-minded and see the value in new tools otherwise, as our report reveals, they will hold their businesses back from modernising.

What do you think are the most important attributes for a business leader in the digital era?

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Nearly half (47 per cent) agree the most important attribute for a business leader in the digital era is the ability to react with pace and make bold decisions. Leaders need to be able to plan, and be prepared, for what the future brings and the right technology enables this by giving access to insights that will help inform decisions.

The second most important attribute, at 44 per cent, is the ability to ensure employees have the digital tools to do their jobs properly. This is important given how technology can drive productivity and eliminate repetitive and mundane processes, leaving staff to focus on what they do best. It also provides time to upskill for the future.

“It’s important that leaders break down the different employee types – the adopters, advocates and agitators – and put in place plans to address their individual needs as part of digital transformation.”
Alissa Dhaliwal, Head of Innovation, CBI

Do you think your organisation is acting fast enough to keep up with the pace of technology innovation?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q22. Do you think your organisation is acting fast enough to keep up with the pace of technology inn.png

The importance of reacting with pace cannot be stressed enough, so it’s worrying to see that 32 per cent of respondents say their organisation is not acting fast enough to keep up with technology innovation.

Ultimately technology is giving leaders a bigger share of voice in the boardroom. The value of strong leadership cannot be underestimated in uncertain times. The CFO and HR Director, for example, are becoming strategic partners – and a sounding board – for the CEO. They are helping the CEO understand how the business is performing, where weaknesses lie, whether more efficiencies can be made and identifying new growth areas.

“Organisations have to have a digital vision. The CEO needs to set this vision but they must take into consideration the needs and desires of their staff and customers.”
Julian Drinkall, CEO, The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)

TAKEAWAY: To what extent are your business leaders capable of running a digital business, and how can they improve confidence among the rest of the workforce?


“Reverse mentoring reinforces the idea of lifelong learning, fosters diversity and skills development.”



James Hallahan, National Technology Director, Hays UK&I




Employees are expected to work harder, arguably more than ever, and often asked to complete tasks outside their remit. Can technology handle some of these tasks? Which tools can businesses implement to help employees work smarter, rather than harder? What’s clear from our research is that businesses are not always providing the tools their staff need – making them less productive and less effective. There is also the risk that staff – especially the digitally savvy younger generation – will become unsatisfied and may even leave the company, a considerable risk given the current battle for talent.

“There is a growing demand from workers who recognise that AI can alleviate their workloads and help eliminate repetitive and mundane tasks. This can afford these workers more time to spend on jobs that require skills that are unique to people.”
Julian David, CEO, techUK

What percentage of people in your organisation do you think are ready to adopt new technology to change the way they work?

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One of the biggest challenges when adopting new technology is ensuring there is willingness from the workforce - employees must believe it will make their jobs easier and better. If they see little or no value, the chances are they will go back to their old ways of working.

It's therefore encouraging to see that, compared to our findings last year, the workforce is becoming more confident when it comes to using new digital tools. In fact, 52 per cent of respondents think more than half of their organisation is ready to adopt new technology – quite a jump from 41 per cent in 2018.

“A lot of knowledge sits with people who are less tech savvy and organisations need to realise this. It’s important to encourage input from a mix of technical and non-technical employees to ensure this insight is captured and harnessed effectively to drive innovation.”
Alex Montgomery, Azure Product Director, Microsoft UK

Which of the following do you think will help meet your organisation's growing digital demands through your workforce?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q15. Which of the following do you think will help meet your organisation’s growing digital demands .png

40 per cent of respondents think that learning from the younger generation will help meet their organisation’s growing digital demands. And they’re right. Because these workers are familiar with technology from a young age, they are tipped to be the innovators in the workplace, and are prepared to challenge the technical status quo. They expect, and demand, modern technology, flexible working and a digital environment.


“The younger generation want to be entrepreneurial and see new tech as beneficial. The rest of the business needs to catch up, otherwise this generation will find their own ways of working.”
Martha Desmond, Chief People Officer, VetPartners

TAKEAWAY: How can your organisation attract and retain the younger generation, and ensure these workers are given a bigger voice in driving change when it comes to technology?

“Security is too often an afterthought – organisations tend to focus on implementing new functionality and don’t consider security as a vital component.”



Alex Montgomery, Azure Product Director, Microsoft UK


Cyber Security and Compliance

The threat of an impending cyber-attack continues. While we don’t intend to scaremonger, it is necessary that we stress the risks that businesses are facing. Our report shows just how important it is for organisations to prioritise security – and be prepared for an attack.

What do you believe to be your business spending priorities for the next 12 months?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q1. What do you believe to be your business spending priorities for the next 12 months-.png

More businesses are beginning to recognise they are not immune from a cyber-attack. In fact, 43 per cent are now prioritising cyber security for next year – up from 35 per cent last year, and over and above recruitment (34 per cent), research and development (34 per cent) and marketing (30 per cent).

The bottom line is that cyber security should be prioritised – not only because it can improve customer confidence, support good data governance and demonstrate compliance with the GDPR, but also because it is actually a key driver to achieving successful digital transformation.


Do you feel new technologies (such as AI and crypto currency) would put your company at greater risk of a cyber-attack?

Trends 2019-20 Graphs2_Q18. Do you feel new technologies (such as AI and RPA) would put your company at greater risk of a c.png

Over half (53 per cent) of our survey respondents think new technologies would put their business at greater risk of attack. As we reported last year, the reality is that new tools are inherently secure. This suggests that there is education across the workforce to be done – both in demonstrating that the latest technologies are more secure by design, and by communicating security policies.

“Everyone should be responsible for data protection but people don’t want to be – they switch off. They would rather be talking about how great a job they are doing.”
Chris Ronan, CEO, St John’s Buildings

TAKEAWAY: What measures do you need to put in place to ensure your organisation is more secure, and that the entire workforce is aware of its responsibilities?



This year’s research reveals an increasing appetite to adopt innovative technologies such as AI and RPA, alongside more established technologies like the Cloud. It’s these solutions that enable businesses to accelerate and compete, as well as ensure employees are more productive and engaged.

However, there are challenges that must be addressed:

1. Modernisation – transforming ageing software and systems into modern solutions that are fit for the information age and able to meet the demands of a data-driven business.

2. Leadership – having a leadership team that can act with pace, be bold and involve the workforce in its digital strategy.

3. Workforce – maximising the skills of multiple generations and giving the younger, more digitally savvy, generation a platform to help innovate.

Digital transformation is an ongoing process - there is no final destination. Organisations need to constantly review their existing digital strategy and solutions. By staying on the pulse of emerging and innovative technologies they will be able to evaluate how these can make a positive impact. Those that do this will be part of an exciting movement that sees the business community become a digital business community.


The Advanced Trends Survey Report 2019/20 was carried out online by Research Without Barriers (RWB) between 7 September 2019 and 25 September 2019. The sample comprised 1,012 senior decision makers working in organisations in the UK with over 100 employees.

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