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By Emma Sinclair MBE

Tough times sharpen our minds and force us to re-evaluate almost everything, both personally and professionally. If we were always on an upwards trajectory, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to take stock, as hard as that lesson might feel.

On every news medium we are reminded that global economies are weakening and sluggish. Governments have been making vast financial contributions to the private and public sector. Commercial and personal financing is getting tougher to source and the amount and terms are somewhat sharpening compared to the last few years. Confidence is ebbing and people and businesses are naturally concerned about the next few years.

The economic reality may feel inescapable and inevitable however whilst doom and gloom may be the flavour of the month, and for many months to come, that is not the only thing I see.  Arguably, a challenging environment can provide a platform for innovation and economic growth through entrepreneurialism and creative thinking.

“Doom and gloom may be the flavourof the month…but is not the only thing I see”

I am an entrepreneur and by nature, we are natural optimists. Entrepreneurship involves systematically and continuously taking on risk, with the likelihood of succeeding depressingly small. More positively, it involves solving problems, navigating obstacles and finding opportunities where others do not. And there truly are opportunities and silver linings which I believe we must seek out, celebrate and welcome.

Over the last six months, I believe tech has changed forever.

1. Technology is in the starring role. No longer a ‘thing’ that sits aside strategy and plans, merely supporting business goals and challenges, tech has become a key, essential business pillar in a way that it never was previous to lockdown.

2. Data is intelligence, intelligence is winning. The power, importance and necessity of creating a data-driven organisation has heightened, with the analytical insight required to inform smart business decisions more pertinent than ever. For most impact, organisations are being rewired to maximise the information collected and equip themselves with the necessary high quality tools to use this at scale. Data is no longer a supporting feature but is at the heart of real transformation.

3. Business reimagined. With previously accepted rules broken, top-level ‘strategy’ is moving from incremental improvements into the world of paradigm shifts. Traditionally tech-phobic boards are embracing the digital-first approach, creating an opportunity to radically change how business is done from the ground up. In order to remain agile and resilient, future proofing not only infrastructure, but also the workforce to withstand the digital transformation is an important consideration. There are casualties – but there are also big opportunities.

4. Responsibility and education. Engaging with smaller businesses provides a platform for innovation, unlocking the entrepreneurial power of creative companies with less ‘muscle’. However, as regulation and data privacy laws become more stringent, to ensure these relationships work in practice requires mentorship, support and an innovative procurement process to unlock the symbiosis between young companies and large enterprises. The appetite to take risks is increasing; reimagining, not necessarily relaxing, internal procedures to support SMEs navigate the barriers to entry is vital for the transformation of the entire ecosystem, without compromising compliance.

There are rich and plentiful opportunities that come with this change. With a shift in priority and tech moving from its complementary ‘supporting role’ into the ‘lead role’, appetite for best in class software and professional services has increased and sales cycles are speeding up to reflect this urgency and demand.

During a growth period, people don’t care so much about costs. During a recession, the only thing people care about is cost cutting which creates another route to win new business too. There is no better time to depose an incumbent by working to tight budgets in order to get a foot in the door. A meaningful reduction in a company’s annual overheads may be the deciding factor when allocating their new business. And a recession being a temporary condition; there is going to be an end and budgets will recover.

And whereas previously, businesses might have chosen light solutions to address challenges – making do with something cheaper and more basic to address a problem or need – or sticking with an existing solution that is ‘good enough’ – I see that there is a demand for best in class, intelligent products and services. To survive and thrive at a difficult time, mediocre simply isn’t good enough. Intelligent platforms are winning – and that’s where nimble, ambitious, high quality businesses will find additional opportunities to depose incumbents and win customers.

Amongst all this change, the very nature of leadership has had a big jolt it cannot ignore too. The shift in boardroom and leadership attitudes means this change is truly supported. The successful enterprises, however big or small, will be the ones that can find symbiosis between leadership, culture and technology. The unsuccessful ones will be the ones that don’t. There is no room to hide anymore.

Large enterprises recognize that doing business with them is difficult and know they need to adjust processes so that the innovative SMEs building products that can give them competitive advantage can do business with them. And in my experience, this is increasingly being addressed by leadership (but needs more attention).

I am not suggesting that there are no hard challenges ahead –  we are all suffering. Companies will continue to suffer. A difficult economic climate requires considerable ingenuity, the ability to look at things differently and a focus on where the fertile opportunities lie. And in looking at things differently, the reality is that there are many opportunities out there – not just for new business but also to improve existing businesses. I am constantly reminded there is an element of luck in finding those opportunities too. Samuel Goldwyn famously said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” The message is be cautious but don’t be inward and conservative. Look outward and look differently at your assets, at your job remit, your business challenges, your hardware and software and/or your skills. Work hard to seek out where the prospect lies if you’re selling – and equally hard to see where the smart tech is being created, if you’re buying. As they say, seek … and ye shall find.