Lockdown widens investment gap between tech-savvy businesses and digital stragglers

Companies that are familiar and comfortable with implementing and using technology have invested three times as much in devices, tools and solutions than their less tech-shrewd peers in the last 18 months

Following various national lockdowns, the gap between keen tech adopters and those lagging behind in the digital transformation process across the UK business sector has grown, with new research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance (HCBF) revealing a significant difference in the average sums of money invested in technology throughout the pandemic.

Using a sample of 1,464 small business leaders across the country, HCBF sought to uncover which areas of technology firms had chosen to invest in over the last 18 months – including new equipment, software and systems, and training. The survey found that companies that capitalised on new technologies as part of their core business practices were twice as likely to have invested as those who admitted to struggling when it came to technology (65% vs 33%).

Furthermore, the average amounts being invested varied considerably between the two groups. Throughout the pandemic, the average tech-savvy small business had forked out £42,389 on technology. Those who struggled with technology, however, invested roughly a third of this on average, amounting to an approximate sum of £15,097.

Tech competent companies were three times as likely to have invested in new software and systems over lockdown than their peers (30% vs 10%), with the average investment four-times that of businesses that feel restricted by their technology (£16,006 vs £4,800). Additionally, they were twice as likely to have committed to offering software training for employees (36% vs 15%), spending on average roughly double (£15,607 vs £7,083), and twice as likely to have invested in new equipment (36% vs 10%, £10,335 vs £3,214).

Hybrid companies are ahead of the curve

The research also showed that hybrid or blended businesses – meaning those functioning via a mix of on-premise and remote working practices – were significantly more likely to have been investing in their firm’s tech over the last 18 months than other groups. Three-quarters (74%) had invested in their company’s tech equipment, software and training, compared with 60% of those that were solely office-based, and 55% working entirely from home.

“Alarm bells should be ringing for businesses that are struggling with technology to ensure they’re not left behind” – Joanna Morris HCBF

On top of this, over a third (36%) of hybrid businesses felt this investment would help them become more agile, compared with just 18% of office workers and 21% of completely remote employees. Similarly, 29% of hybrid business leaders believed this investment would help boost long-term productivity.

Who falls behind is left behind

The research also highlighted an investment gap between companies of different sizes. Medium-sized businesses (with 51–250 employees), for example, were considerably more likely to have invested in technology during the pandemic than their smaller business counterparts (73% vs 53%).

Again, half of medium-sized businesses believed this investment had made them more agile, as well as productive. For smaller businesses (>50 employees), just a fifth (22%) felt they were not more agile, and a quarter (24%) more productive.

Of the findings, Joanna Morris, head of insight at HCBF, commented: “As we re-emerge from lockdown, we are likely to see the gap continue to widen between businesses that have technology at the core of their thinking and those that don’t. Alarm bells should be ringing for businesses that are struggling with technology to ensure they’re not left behind.

“Small business owners have clearly placed great value in the outcomes of home/remote working,” added Morris. “The amounts spent – whether large or small – upgrading systems and furthering technical prowess can only signify a long-term investment plan across the small business community to enable a better way of working to suit the needs of both the employer and their employees.”

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