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17 July 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 2:23pm

Can Covid-19 be a catalyst for digital change?

Technology’s role in supporting businesses has evolved in the fight against the pandemic.

By Nick Williams

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of tech enablement in the UK with so many businesses forced to pause, close their doors and adapt to working remotely. We have seen an unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation and tech adoption. There have been huge changes to working practices, how businesses are managed, and how consumers are using digital to stay connected.

Since March, we’ve seen cross-sector digitisation like never before. From virtual medical appointments, to the huge increases in food delivery services from retailers across the country and the pivot from schools to online learning and digital classrooms, the scale of transformation has been huge. More now needs to be done to unlock the potential that digital solutions have for businesses, and employees’ well-being, engagement and personal lives.

With businesses reacting to government guidelines, 49.2 per cent of us were working from home during April 2020, compared with just over five per cent during 2019. In a short survey completed by Lloyds Bank during lockdown, 78 per cent of people agreed that the Covid-19 pandemic has escalated the need for digital skills and 80 per cent agree that using technology has been a vital support to them. Positively, over half of people agreed that they will continue to boost their digital skills after the pandemic. Employers can take this opportunity to focus on a renewed appetite to increase workplace skills, ensuring their employees have the right tools and knowledge to be productive.

Businesses are undoubtedly facing a range of Covid-19 related challenges, and while tech adoption is not the silver bullet to success, it will play a central role. Combining the right skills with the right technology will unlock huge productivity gains for small businesses; and these benefits can’t be ignored.

Technology is one of the most powerful tools available to improve a business not just for its own growth, but also to power us through the post Covid-19 economic recovery. Supporting businesses to thrive beyond the pandemic, technology can unlock scalable growth, increase process efficiency and ultimately improve profitability. By going local to go national, and giving small businesses across the country the skills and the tools they need, all businesses can understand how they can access or make the most out of digital. The digitally mature firms and those investing in their digital strategies have the opportunity to build back better and truly unlock the benefits of digital.

Back-office benefits

The Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index report has been measuring the digital capability of businesses and charities for the last six years, and it repeatedly finds that those organisations with the full toolkit of digital skills are able to realise very real benefits – including the ability to work flexibly.

The Index identifies six Essential Digital Skills for organisations: communicating, creating, managing information, problem solving, transacting and operating securely online. Businesses lacking these six skills are nearly two and a half times more likely to close in the next two years. But firms using cloud-based IT systems, online accounting software and digital training tools had £262,000 higher turnover than those that didn’t, more than double the £103,000 gap seen the year before.

The coronavirus lockdown and the ensuing changes should be a wake-up call for those businesses whose lack of digital know-how means they have found themselves struggling to operate efficiently with staff working from home or without customers coming through the door.

Build back better

We want to level the playing field by making it easy for organisations of all sizes to access all the opportunities that a modern digital business enjoys.

With that in mind, Lloyds Bank is working with partners including the Be the Business, Google Digital Garage, Digital Boost and FutureDotNow to help businesses upskill to achieve all the benefits that digital technology can offer. The Lloyds Bank Academy provides free online digital skills training for individuals, charities and businesses. Organisations can sign up for a selection of free interactive webinars on a range of topics, designed to help you and your colleagues communicate, collaborate, survive and thrive online.

Everyone is welcome, especially those organisations that are facing a skills shortage, and we’re also hosting online networking events where firms can virtually meet to share their experiences and advice. We know while technology can lead to productivity and innovation – connecting as people in a virtually face-to-face space at times of challenge is invaluable. This is also why we are creating regional and localised sessions alongside national opportunities. We want to be by the side of business to help British businesses recover today and tomorrow.

To find out more about what’s on offer, including a range of online learning resources on everything from using social media to protecting a business from fraud, visit: Nick Williams is deputy group transformation director at Lloyds Banking Group.

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