Seizing the £76bn opportunity in UK digital investment

Representation of digital transformation
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ryzhi)

The pandemic forced organizations to upgrade their systems and invest in digital transformation (opens in new tab). But how far have they come? And how quickly?

About the author

Mike Smith is Director of Large Enterprise and Public Sector at Virgin Media O2 Business (opens in new tab).

We wanted to understand the scale of these changes since the pandemic – and their impact across the UK. Together with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), we found that organizations fast-tracked their digital transformation projects by an average of three years across the UK.

At first glance, this might seem like encouraging news. But an event like the pandemic can easily lead to a big initial spike of transformation followed by a fall in momentum. And organizations may treat digital investment as little more than a means to an end – a temporary way of surviving the pandemic.

But any organization doing this would be missing out on an opportunity. Survival is only the first step – technology is now an essential tool to help businesses stabilize and rebound. And the potential gains that could be made by maintaining the momentum in digital investment are enormous.

Digital investment potential

Our research found that continued digital investment could add a potential £76 billion to the UK economy within the next four years. Those organizations which are already investing are currently focusing on three key areas – hybrid working (opens in new tab) policies, digital delivery of services, and adopting data analytics and machine learning (opens in new tab). How hybrid working is creating happier, more productive employees (opens in new tab)

Hybrid-working has proven to be far more than just a quick fix to the impacts of the pandemic. The real benefits extend far beyond the ability for workers to remain plugged in during lockdown.

A 2021 survey by McKinsey, ‘What executives are saying about the future of work’, stated that ‘during the pandemic most organizations have seen rises in individual and team productivity (opens in new tab) and employee engagement, and, perhaps as a result of this increased focus and energy, a rise in the satisfaction of their customers as well.’ In addition, by reducing the reliance on in-person, site-based work, hybrid-working policies widen the pool of available talent while making work more suited to people’s lifestyles, commitments, and needs. For example, there are currently almost four million disabled people, carers, and parents who are locked out of the workforce due to their circumstances who would be able to take on work if given the chance to do so remotely.

Our research found that 45% of Brits who are currently out of work would be able to start working if they could do so remotely. Unemployed carers are among the main beneficiaries with more than half (52%) more inclined to work remotely, along with parents (49%) and disabled people (40%) whose circumstances mean they’re locked out from fully-office or site-based work.

In total, increased hybrid working could mean an additional 3.8 million people could enter the workforce, including 1.2 million parents, 1.5 million people with disabilities, 500,000 with caring responsibilities and 600,000 others who are currently out of work. Alongside this, the potential for part-time employees to work more hours could lead to an additional 1.27 billion hours worked every year.

Productivity and processes

Hybrid working has also made us more productive. When you look at the benefits of increased remote working (opens in new tab) for employees, it’s easy to see why they’re so keen to keep it going. 90% of employees say remote working helps them build their working day around other commitments, improving their work-life balance and saving them time and money as they reduce their commute. But it’s not just about making life better for your people – new ways of working also make them more productive. Increased remote working has resulted in an extra two hours of work a day for the average employee. It’s a win-win situation – because it has also led to a 4.9% increase in customer satisfaction across the UK.

All of this requires continued investment to ensure hybrid working remains a viable long-term model for organizations. Ensuring employees are satisfied, happy, and productive means implementing solutions that enable seamless communication internally and externally. It also requires that working files can be accessed safely and securely, which is eased by shifting to cloud-based systems.

By putting all of this in place, companies can ensure their employees feel empowered to work efficiently from anywhere – and even boost productivity and satisfaction in the process. Boosting revenue and improving customer service through digital services Digital services have the potential to create better processes that improve efficiency, reduce errors, and streamline operations.

A good example of this in practice can be seen in the retail industry, where investment in robotics makes packaging goods a much speedier process. And the full digitalization of fulfilment processes means that goods can be ordered, processed, approved, and dispatched within the same system. As a result, employees have greater visibility and can more easily manage the entire process, customers receive better services, and companies are able to meet greater demand and reach larger audiences and new markets. Meanwhile, companies should seek wider opportunities to use data (opens in new tab) and machine learning to streamline processes and encourage future innovation.

The benefits are all-encompassing: Driving up standards of customer service, producing happier staff, and boosting revenue.

Keeping the momentum going

The current signs that some of the pressures of the pandemic have been lifted shouldn’t lull organizations into complacency. The pandemic brought on a surge of digital acceleration that the UK had long been calling out for. Now, we have an opportunity to maintain this momentum and seize the full commercial and economic benefits of the transition into a new digital-first world.

Our research, along with the encouraging case studies from almost every sector in the UK, demonstrate that there is a fantastic opportunity out there. We can now work together to move past the test and learn phase and into making digital services, hybrid working, and other means of digital transformation key to the way we work.

Mike is the Managing Director (Direct) at Virgin Media Business.