£63 billion in lost revenue and one in five High Street shops closing primarily because UK Business is still not engaging with the Digital Economy.
Despite the appointment of Gurus such as Mary Portas for the High Street and Martha Lane Fox as Digital Champion, the UK Government has consistently failed to show true leadership in the Digital Economic crisis.
The £100,000 Portas Pilot grants given to some of the worse hit High Streets in the UK, was never more than a token gesture and projects have become embroiled in in-fighting over the scraps from the Government’s table. Meanwhile more shops close, jobs are lost and livelihoods are ruined.
It is often said that much of the plight of the UK economy can be improved by better engagement with of use of Digital Technologies. Apps, Social Media, Digital Video and the Web have been cited as ways in which businesses could better engage with customers and find greater efficiencies in themselves. However, according the Martha Lane Fox led think tank Go On UK, £63 billion in revenue is currently hemorrhaging from the UK economy because Digital is still not on the agenda of 14% of businesses. Even for those flirting with digital, projects are often stalled, under-funded and mismanaged because of a lack of understanding about Digital Strategy and Marketing, in the UK’s executive clubs.
The Go On Digital solution is a voluntary programme where digital literate companies help other businesses, for free, to make the transition to the Digital Economy. Ah, anyone remember David Cameron’s Big Society programme and how effective that was?
3 Sheep is a Digital Champion and part of the Go On Digital programme. There is however a fundamental problem with the initiative. It is adding to the massive devaluation of the digital skill set in the UK Economy. Why? Simply because there is a lack of understanding of Digital Skills within the Executive classes of the UK. For a long-time Digital has been ‘sold’ as free or very low cost. This is a myth, it always has been. Sure there are lots of ways of doing things at low fiscal cost to start and that is great but scalability, measurability, applied understanding, that costs. With the current economic crisis and programmes, like Go On Digital though, the myth of free Digital is being expanded and it is destroying the Digital Economy.
Despite this scepticism 3 Sheep remains committed to Go On Digital programme because we know this battle is too valuable not to be fought.
I have met with several executives, who have told me that they do not want to get involved. Digital is a bridge too far for them. Logically they can see it’s value but emotionally it is just too much, they want to wind down to their safe gilded pensions. They know the businesses they guide are at risk but they also know that they have enough stored up to keep them safe until they are off watch and it is someone elses problem. By then of course it will be too late.
A significant part of the problem also lies within the Digital community. Too many are addicted to the start-up lifestyle and happy to meet with peers and discuss the latest gadget rather than growing their businesses. Sadly there also too many charlatans also selling snake oil solutions to unsuspecting naive businesses.
On the edges of the Digital start-up world is also an odious breed of Business Consultant, plying their previous failures as wisdom and grooming the new start-ups into their clutches with poor advice, keeping them locked in a spiral of economic decay.
So what can be done?
We have to realise we are all in this together. Digital is not an enemy of established business, it is simply a tool kit that can be applied to create efficiency, improve marketing and increase sales and revenue.
No more hubs. All over the country hubs and incubators have sprung up to nurture young businesses. The reality is though is that they shelter businesses far too long and prevent them really trading.
Established business needs to understand the need for an effective Digital Strategy. This must be a senior management team responsibility and there must be an proper programme of experimentation, adoption and roll out for new technology that matches (or preferably exceeds) the current pace of change. Executives must also understand that if a return is expected on Digital then an investment must be made.
There is much more can be done but these 3 are a starting point. The UK Digital Economy is broken but it can be fixed and made better. This can’t be done with badly funded and poorly led initiatives. It needs vision, leadership and resources.