The Threat Of Tech

UK SMEs fail to defend against disruption


Government legislation and regulatory disruption around Brexit has a lot of UK SMEs on edge, nearly half (46%) in fact. It is regarded as the most feared form of disruption business owners face. This may not be surprising, as it has dominated the news agenda for over a year, but is the concern misplaced?

When looking at a varied list outlining other forms of disruption that have business owners worried, all have one thing in common: technology. Perhaps then, this is a subject worthy of more sleepless nights. Whereas legislative changes are slow, predictable, and well communicated, technological disruption is fast paced and comes without warning. It has the ability to uproot business models that may have remained firmly in place, unchanged for decades.

The tech savvy customer

Customer expectations are being raised through their increased access to, and knowledge of, technology. Research by Haines Watts shows that over a third (37%) of business owners identify this as a cause of anxiety.

In the classic example of retail businesses, consumers used to walk through the door and ask them for advice on which product was the best fit, which additional features are offered, what other customers have said in the past. Now consumers arrive knowing exactly what they plan to purchase, having read reviews on social media and various forums. They are aware of any additional features they want to add and are less likely to seek input from sales staff. All of this assuming that they even choose to walk through the door, with online shopping becoming more prevalent every day.

The competition wear skinny jeans

Competition from new startups entering the sector is front of mind for over a third of business owners (34%), as speculation surrounds how these companies may alter the status quo and stir up the way business has been done for years. It has become clear that there is no sector immune to the threat of tech-savvy startups.

Again, picking just one example, in the past ten years the leisure industry has been hit by Airbnb, Deliveroo and most recently Recharge, launched in select US cities – a mobile app that allows business travellers to book luxury hotel rooms for small increments throughout the day to rest after a redeye, fit in a quick workout and only pay for the time used.

The robo employee

Disruptive technologies also threaten to shake up how traditional businesses compete. Leaving nearly a quarter (22%) of business owners concerned about what the future holds. With 3D printing redefining how we create products of all shapes and sizes, augmented robotics shifting what we think of humans and technology working together and artificial intelligence opening up an entirely new conversation about what is even possible in the world of automation. It can be hard to identify what technologies will take hold and the pace at which these advancements will become commonplace.

Despite concerns, less than 10% of UK SMEs have a long term plan in place to counter these intimidating forms of disruption. The challenge lies in deliberating what to do about the future when there is no clear picture as to what it may hold. While this clearly is no mean feat, there are still steps that every business owner can and should take to prepare for changes on the horizon. By developing a passionate interest, keeping informed of upcoming technology advancements, speaking with trusted advisors and peers, and prioritizing time to invest in their own innovative ideas and those of their employees, business owners can defend against impending disruption and plot a course, no matter how stormy the sea. 


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