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What we learned at the Digital Leaders Conference

The 4th Digital Leaders Conference in London last week included key speakers from the likes of Google, Samsung and MasterCard pointed the way to some very interesting developments for small and medium-sized businesses coming in 2017. Here are a few highlights.

Working to beat the digital skills gap

Russell Haworth, CEO of Nominet, the registry responsible for all .uk domain names, pointed out that 50% of the private sector is employed in SMEs and there are an estimated 4.2m sole proprietor businesses in the UK. Data consumption is growing 50% year on year and yet somewhere between 30 and 40% of small businesses still don’t have a web presence.

To help build digital skills among the young the company has launched a new initiative that matches youngsters with digital skills with SMEs to share business experience and digital expertise. The idea is that by getting more businesses online, growing digital skills and improving security will lead to a much stronger economy in the near future.

Katie O’Donovan, Public Policy Manager at Google quoted an EU estimate that suggests there will be a million job vacancies by 2020 because of the digital skills gap. The company has created the Digital Garage project, with seven workshops around the UK offering seminars and free mentoring in digital skills for SMEs. She quoted a couple of examples of online success stories including the Berwick Shellfish Company, a fish shop, that branched online and produced an extra £6,000 turnover in the five weeks before Xmas. The HouseMan Property Services in Harrogate already had a website but after optimising it for SEO and ads the company is now doing up to 60% of its business online.


Business apps are going to get bigger

Vincent Slevin, head of SME strategy at Samsung Europe said his company is particularly interested in startup and micro businesses at the moment, because those very small businesses represent 25% of the business market, growing at a rate of 55%. They also tend to ‘get’ technology as they’re often staffed by younger people who are digital natives.

He added that business apps will soon be more important than hardware and that the next big market will be in mobile solutions, with mobile engagement forming a projected $32bn market by 2018. Developing technology means that sophisticated solutions aren’t necessarily the preserve of large enterprises any more – virtually any size business can do it. Those startups that can harness technology effectively will be more disruptive, more effective and ultimately more successful.


Vincent Slevin, head of SME strategy at Samsung Europe

Mobile payments are growing

Edoardo Volta, Vice President of Business Development SME at MasterCard UK&I, reckoned that mobile payments was the only online payment channel likely to grow in 2017 (up 21% year on year since 2014), as payments via laptops and desktops are shrinking. He suggested that we’d be seeing more mobile payment services including digital wallets and identified four markers for successful mobile payment systems:

Accessible – boring but easy to get and use

Transparency – clear what you’re getting and what’s happening

Security – needs to be clearly secure

Privacy – needs to reassure customers that it won’t use their data for anything else.


More collaborative opportunities for smaller businesses

James Alexander, who heads up the SME Accelerator Programme at big tech consultancy CGI said we’re on the verge of a potentially golden era for small to medium-sized businesses offering their expertise to larger organisations. Using his own company as an example he pointed out that 26% of their external spend went to SMEs in 2016 (about £93m) and that it’s committed to reaching the UK Government’s requirement of 33% by 2020.


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Growth for smaller businesses in the public sector and abroad

Simon Hansford, CEO of UKCloud which provides cloud platforms for the UK public sector said that while large enterprises have traditionally found it difficult to sell to SMEs and vice versa – cloud is changing that, especially in services. He pointed out that five years ago, just eight suppliers controlled £7.5bn spend, but there are now 2,500 SMEs delivering £1.6bn sales back to government through the G-Cloud framework.

Seth Finegan, UK CEO of Informed Solutions pointed out that too many SMEs aren’t aware of how to engage with the Government and that 64% still aren’t using Contracts Finder, despite the fact that the service has been going for six years.

He also pointed out that there was plenty of room for export growth among SMEs. With just 11% of SMEs operating beyond UK borders, British SMEs are in the bottom five for SME export in Europe.



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