O2’s Ben Dowd tells us how improving Britain’s digital infrastructure could companies solve their productivity crisis
The latest ONS productivity figures are a stark reminder that the UK needs to make fundamental changes to retain its competitiveness on the international stage. The figures showed that the UK is still lagging well behind our G7 partners – only Japan struggles more than us. The United States, Germany and France are each 30 percent more productive per worker.
It’s clear that the UK’s productivity problems are stagnant. There’s been little sign of improvement since the Government’s ‘Fixing the Foundations’ report last year, which set out to tackle our productivity puzzle. But we simply can’t afford for this lacklustre state to become the status quo.
From our experience, both as a big business but also through our work with small businesses, it’s clear that connectivity can power smarter working and deliver significant productivity gains.
Most recently, we’ve seen this impact as part of a pilot we ran in a deprived area of Liverpool. We partnered with St Helens Council to test how much connectivity can transform a predominantly analogue community grappling with modern day challenges – one being poor productivity.
We gave small businesses free digital makeovers. Unite Healthcare, which offers social care to local people, was struggling to grow. Time consuming processes and limited resources were holding it back. We gave them access to tablets, laptops and a mobile printer. It streamlined admin time from two hours to 30 minutes and means the company can deliver better quality care to more people.
So how can tech be better harnessed to help solve Britain’s productivity puzzle?
Firstly, businesses of all sizes need better access to the digital tools and guidance. Over two thirds of British businesses say digital technology has had a positive impact on their productivity and efficiency, but currently less than half of British businesses have a digital strategy in place. We’re not talking about an entire business overhaul. It can be as simple as giving employees smart devices so they can work in a way that suits them and saves time – our work with Unite Healthcare being a perfect example of this.
Secondly, businesses need digitally competent people who can help make sure tools and guidance translate into business growth. That often means looking to young people, our digital natives, who have the skills and ambitions to harness the potential of technology. But it’s often hard for businesses to tap into that talent pool. We need better collaboration between businesses, schools and colleges to ensure local young people and business can make the most of the opportunities on their doorstep.
Finally, we must collectively champion the improvement of Britain’s digital infrastructure. Currently, access to connectivity – whether broadband or mobile networks – is inconsistent the country over. But without reform of planning laws and the Electronic Communications Code – the rules by which telecoms companies can build and maintain networks – coverage and capacity difficulties will become more commonplace.
Now is the time to ensure that we start playing catch up with our G7 counterparts. We’ve seen first-hand that when businesses and communities put digital at their heart they prosper; now we need a collective effort from business and government to inspire more towns to follow in St Helens’ footsteps to help build a Smarter, Digital Britain.
Ben Dowd is business director at O2.
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