Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the UK is a “long, long, long way” away from lockdown restrictions being lifted, maintaining pressure on businesses as they continue to adapt to COVID-19.
In 2020, many organisations assumed that pandemic-driven changes to operations would be temporary. However, the ongoing nature of the crisis is bringing home the reality that they may need to be retained in the medium- to long-term, particularly the use of collaboration and communication solutions to enable remote working.
With digital tools playing such a critical role in helping businesses respond to the coronavirus, we asked over 500 SME business leaders about their experiences introducing new technologies throughout the pandemic.
The findings indicate that while most organisations have seen success in driving effective digital transformation, there is still work to be done in 2021 to optimise IT strategies.
43% of businesses purchased online meeting software since the start of the COVID-19 crisis
The analysis of technology investments across eight software categories found that online meeting tools are the most purchased solution since the introduction of social distancing requirements. 43% of organisations have bought products from this category to use on either a temporary or permanent basis.
The next most popular purchase (28%) was website software, possibly a result of brands seeking to improve experiences for an increasingly virtual customer base. The same number of businesses also ramped up efforts to protect their digital assets by investing in endpoint protection software.
91% of organisations satisfied with the performance of their 2020 software investments
Overall, the UK’s investments in technology appear to have paid off, addressing both the immediate challenge of coronavirus and driving overall satisfaction.
Almost three in four businesses (74%) report that their software purchases have helped them to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. A quarter state (25%) that new technology has had a very positive impact, while a further 49% say it has been somewhat positive.
When it comes to satisfaction with overall performance, this trend is more pronounced. 39% indicate they are very satisfied with the software they have acquired, while 52% are somewhat satisfied – 91% in total.
Taking a closer look at the specific benefits of technology investments, it appears the solutions purchased have had a broad impact across business operations, helping companies to achieve a wide range of key commercial goals:
Sales and promotion are the top technology priorities for 2021
While most businesses are clearly happy with the results of their investments in digital, many feel more work is required before they can consider their IT fully optimised. Indeed, a significant number believe they need to replace or eliminate at least one software programme in the next 12 months.
31% of organisations intend to replace software due to legacy systems failing to meet business needs. Similarly, almost a quarter (24%) plan to eliminate outdated software as it is incompatible with their evolving business model. 21% plan to replace software for the same reason.
Given the broad range of solutions businesses plan to replace or eliminate, it is unsurprising that the top areas they intend to invest in are similarly diverse. Sales and promotion ranked as the top tech priority for 2021 with 71%, followed by production and service delivery (57%) and logistics and supply chain (45%).
Businesses already anticipating the impact of emerging technologies
Whether planning to invest big in technology this year or not, businesses would be well advised to closely monitor digital developments in the coming months. Across both the UK and EU, digital technologies are at the forefront of policy initiatives designed to drive the economic recovery post-pandemic.
From the UK’s National Data Strategy to the European Commission’s Digital Decade, data and technology will be central to efforts to inspire innovation and generate growth. Moreover, it is important to a number of emerging technologies are rapidly maturing and likely to become commercially viable in an increasing array of industries:
Next-generation 5G connectivity, for example, combined with Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), is set to enable a new age of intelligent automation opportunities via edge computing. Meanwhile, advancements in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are providing compelling new ways to engage with remote audiences.
Many businesses are already thinking about how these innovations could fit into their operations so monitoring developments will be important for keeping up with the competition.
Data for this study was collected in December 2020 from an online survey of 541 respondents that live in the UK.
To participate on the survey, respondents had to be:
- Employed full-time in one of the following roles:
- Owner, founder or other head of an organisation
- C-Suite executive e.g. CEO, CIO
- President of Vice-president
- Working for a company of up to 250 people
- Working at the organisation during the COVID-19 pandemic