World Economic Forum 2016: Davos' digital dream is a long way from business reality

Regina Moran
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"Digital is the future of our economy – but our businesses are experiencing a worrying lack of direction" (Source: Getty)
igital transformation is front and centre at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. The fourth industrial revolution is on everyone’s lips (and screens).

It’s widely suggested that the world is in the early stages of a new fundamental shift, where digital will transform existing industries and solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. Optimism is everywhere – but are world leaders losing sight of the realities for businesses on the ground?

Because the truth is, businesses don’t share this sense of digital optimism – particularly in the UK.

Digital maturity research published this week found that UK businesses are the least confident in Europe in digital decision-making.

Read more: Who's who at the World Economic Forum (and who's notably absent)

For 71 per cent of businesses, the success of digital projects is seen as a gamble. Furthermore, more than half admit it’s difficult to know the right choices to make when it comes to digital adoption, while nearly two thirds state that their organisation is playing digital catch-up.

These findings are particularly worrying given that the UK is positioned as a digital leader: 15 per cent of all new companies in 2013-14 were digital. The government is supporting this, investing in our burgeoning digital economy, with digital transformation seen as a key way of addressing the productivity gap.

We know that digital is the future of our economy – but our businesses are experiencing a worrying lack of direction.

It’s clear that businesses in the UK are aware of the benefits of digital, including increased workforce productivity, market responsiveness and the creation of new revenue opportunities.

But there are barriers to realising these benefits. Frequently, there are internal challenges, with a lack of clear digital strategy and a failure to prioritise digital projects being frequently cited.

But there are wider issues too, which business leaders must acknowledge.

The UK has been at the forefront of technology for years – but as a result this means many large organisations are tied into legacy systems, and face the difficulty of building new digital capabilities into them. There is the challenge of finding workers with the technical skills needed to advance in the digital world. And there are global changes, as international competition increases and new players challenge existing markets.

Digital offers incredibly exciting opportunities for businesses and for us all. But governments and world leaders should also remember that for businesses on the ground, digital transformation can be a hugely daunting prospect which needs careful planning utilising the right people with the right skills to deliver perfect execution. Many businesses need support to realise the potential of digital, and here in the UK this must remain a priority for our government.

It’s only in this way that we can keep our businesses pushing forward and innovating – to help us all to enjoy the digital transformation sooner.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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