Election 2015: Why digital needs to be at the top of Government agenda

As we edge ever closer to the 7 May, the speculation over who will come into power, what the manifestos will look like in practice and who will ultimately lead this country in the best possible way, inevitably ramps up. What I, perhaps unsurprisingly, am interested in, is how the winning party will ensure that digital is at the core of our economy.

At the end of last year, Microsoft published a report with the Harvard Business Review that found digital integration in businesses improves job efficiency and productivity – this should not come as a shock. And new research carried out by O2 shows that in fact, over 70 per cent of the senior managers we polled believe the use of technology for customer interaction has a positive effect on their organisation.

The research we commissioned with YouGov explores the impact and perceptions of technology in the workplace and found that a further third (36 per cent) of senior management and a quarter (24 per cent) of employees in Britain’s largest organisations believe using more business technology for customer and employee interaction will lead to greater business productivity.

If we take a look at retail, several high street stores are investing in training staff to operate innovative sales tools and smart tablets to increase job productivity and customer satisfaction levels. But only a small population of business owners are actually tapping into this market; consumer demand for digital integration into the way they shop is increasing, and retailers are missing a trick with our research showing that only 16 per cent of consumers having been assisted by staff that use in-store devices and technology.

So why aren’t we incorporating more technology into our businesses? One answer is that a significant proportion of the UK’s population lack the basic digital skills and capabilities required to effectively operate technological devices when servicing customers. This is more evident in the public sector than the private, with many business leaders in the private sector already putting digital at the heart of their strategies.

Our study shows 40 per cent of senior managers acknowledge that technology improves collaboration, sharing of resources (34 per cent) and increased efficiency (37 per cent). And while the faith in the potential of technology is there, low productivity levels across the UK indicate that many organisations still have a long way to go in positioning the integration of digital in the workplace. In fact, 56 per cent of senior management haven’t yet experienced greater business efficiency through technology. Businesses should now look to equipping their frontline staff with devices for work such as laptops, smartphones and tablets paired with the training to use them. These tools are key components in face-to-face sales for big and small organisations.

Something I will also be watching closely post-election is digital education. In this government, we have seen the introduction of coding into the British school curriculum with children as young as eleven learning how to code. This is a great new initiative and we hope to see many more after 7 May. All parties have made attractive digital promises; we have heard Labour’s commitment to develop a digital government to enable better communication, collaboration and sharing of data between services, and the Lib Dems’ promise to maintain the Government Digital Service. What is key is that the winning party doesn’t pay lip service to its promises and instead commits to making this transformation.

All parties have put forward promising proposals around digital, recognising that technology can dramatically improve the delivery of public services while raising productivity and keeping costs low. But irrespective of which party wins the election, digital must be at the heart of the next government’s long-term economic plan. And organisations – both public and private – must collaborate on integrating smart, connected technology into the heart of business strategies. Above all, the winning party must ensure that their commitment to digital is continued and not merely there to win votes.

 The research was conducted by YouGov using a quantitative online methodology. The total sample size was 3,638 – 1,020 senior managers (middle managers and above, working in organisations with a minimum of 250 UK employees in particular sectors), 542 employees (working in organisations with a minimum of 250 UK employees in particular sectors), and a nationally representative sample of 2,076 consumers (18+). Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th and 25th March 2015.

Ben Dowd is O2's Director of Business

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Image Credit: Paul Wilkinson