Partners Subscribe

By Mark Sweeny

Roll back to New Year’s Eve 2019 and the technology industry was looking forward optimistically to a new decade of advancement and achievement. Investment funds in cloud B2B applications was increasing to record levels across Europe, the UK tech scene was flourishing, and the ERP cloud market was starting to evolve into the era of the ‘experience economy’. Everything felt good and the world was full of opportunity. However, by the end of April 2020 we found ourselves in what could be described as a global economic apocalypse due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

We will beat this terrible disease that has caused such devastation to our lives and our economy. Its impact for some will affect the rest of their lives as we mourn loved ones lost, and economically, I predict we are looking at least five to seven years for full recovery. 

Regardless of how dire the situation has become we have to look forward positively and rebuild. With any crisis opportunities emerge that can make a positive impact. We just have to be brave enough to take them.

The crisis has inadvertently accelerated the need and use of digital technology. Those enterprises that have deferred their digital transformation have found themselves having to accelerate their plans and immediately adapt to support new ways of working. 

For some organisations it has been too little too late and unfortunately what we are seeing is pure Darwinism; ‘it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent – it is the one that is the most adaptable to change’. Organisations that continue to produce over-engineered business cases, lengthy procurements, and inaction around decision making I will just be diplomatic and say nothing, but hopefully you get my point.

We are at ground zero and the only way is up in rebuilding our economy. At the 9/11 memorial in the wonderful city of New York there is a message carved into the wall that has always struck a chord and the words are just as meaningful today as we face this global crisis. It simply says; “We came in as individuals. And we’ll walk out together.”. In any progressive society we all have a role to play.

SMEs are now more important than ever

The technology industry thrives on start-ups and small companies as this is where you find the risk takers pioneering innovation and new ideas. These are the people that create businesses from nothing, where the kitchen table and the garage are the innovation labs of the future. Often short of cash, such individuals pursue their ideas by being highly creative searching to deliver solutions that just make the world a better place. They create wealth in various forms, usually through employment of others and where the smart ones focus heavily on developing talent contributing to the industry and the wider economy. 

Consequently, more than ever we need to support this market segment as this will become a key element of the engine room for rebuilding our economy. 

Continued government support will be key

Kick starting the economy is down to the government. In such unprecedented times, whilst criticism will always be present, I personally feel Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, could not have done anything more than the multiple initiatives he has taken. The stimulus package has been constant – Deferred VAT, Business Tax Relief, CBILS, Furlough Scheme, Future Fund and the Bounce Back Loan.

Unfortunately, it always takes time from announcement to action, and time is an extremely precious resource that many in the SME world do not have – some businesses will unfortunately still go under. However, for those that have been able to access the measures, we need to ensure that government leaves these funding options in place for a significant amount of time. This is going to be critical as suddenly withdrawing the support will create just as many problems.

Opportunities a-plenty

Technology advancement in regard to digital solutions comes in many forms and what has happened will make a profound difference on how we think and undertake work. From the obvious advances in video-communication technology and collaborative software platforms, through to the back office including:

• delivering new and improved experiences (the ‘experience economy’) by the seamless connection of the front to back office; using AI & ML technologies to not only predict what needs to be done but instinctively taking action 

• scalability of a virtual workforce to handle customer queries on an unprecedented scale  

• re-engineering supply chains removing inefficiencies 

• empowering individuals through insight to make informed decisions across an organisation 

Tim Warner, former chairman of Certus Solutions, said: “Cloud technologies have already enabled us to adapt to seismic unexpected change, the challenge now is to continue the journey to innovate and make the world a better place”.  

The market should be more receptive now than ever to new digitalised solutions.

We need one another – life is about human contact

Despite championing technology advancement, if there is one thing humans value above all else it is social contact. 

Our time on this planet is limited. Some of us might live to 100, others will live shorter lives. But in the time we do have, wouldn’t you want to spend it with your loved ones and friends? Innovation should drive our physical social contact upwards and allow us to get on celebrating and enjoying life.

Technology therefore should achieve two things at a minimum; firstly, make the work we do more fulfilling by eliminating the mundane and providing us with learning experiences; and secondly, create more time! 

People contribute in many ways – entrepreneurs have their role

We all contribute in different ways, and whilst the NHS and those on the front line are leading the efforts to tackle the crisis, I know that entrepreneurs will also play their part as they continue to innovate, generate tax revenues and further wealth creation opportunities for all. One thing is for certain, there is a lot of hard work ahead If we want a better future, but for now #staysafe everyone.   

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer, companies I invest in or am associated with. In addition, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time and I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This article is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time and as such any thoughts or opinions expressed within out of date posts may not be the same or similar to those that I hold today