Almost half of UK firms are falling behind when it comes to digital capabilities according to new research.
A study by IBM and the CBI has found that while 55% of "pioneer" firms are adopting digital technologies and processes, the rest (45%) are falling behind. The report concludes that this "digital divide" is holding back the UK economy.
However, it's a mixed picture; the UK takes the top place globally for ecommerce and is in fifth place for the availability of technology. But it ranks fourteenth in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology and the report says many firms are struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change.
Key barriers include connectivity and security but the biggest of all are access to skilled labour (for 42% of firms) and an unclear return on investment (for 33%). And yet 94% of those surveyed agreed that digital technology has the ability to improve productivity. In addition, 73% see improved customer satisfaction and experience as its biggest benefit.
The findings from the group surveyed show that the pioneer firms tend to have a long-term vision on digital strategy; for instance, 28% of these businesses have already invested in advanced artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies in the past year.
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: "Businesses globally are in the throes of an extraordinary digital revolution that is transforming productivity and creating a new generation of winning companies. But in the UK, too many firms are being left behind. While pioneering firms are seizing digital opportunities, nearly half are struggling - a growing digital divide that is threatening UK competitiveness."
The CBI has recommended that businesses include a digital or technology expert on senior leadership teams in order to drive change. It says that UK firms need to "increase the age and skills diversity of boards and board advisers, drawing on the expertise of a new generation of digital natives".
Fairbairn said: "Giving digital a human face by appointing a chief technology officer will help businesses build the long-term digital strategies that will be critical to their futures."