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Why digital technologies will be crucial to our post Covid-19 economic recovery

Posted: 3rd July 2020

As Scotland works together to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s sobering to take a moment to reflect on just how big an impact the crisis has had on both our home and working lives.

BT Group has seen a significant rise in demand on both our fixed and mobile networks, as people stayed at home during the lockdown and millions of people migrated towards working from home. To give some context, in the last week of April alone, BT’s core UK network transmitted 103.3 Petabytes of data in a single day – the largest total since our records began. When you consider that one Petabyte is the equivalent of 13 years of HD video you’ll really appreciate how much data we have all been consuming.

Our networks have stood up well to this challenge and have been extremely resilient, but the predicament we all find ourselves in has prompted questions about what the ‘new normal’ might look like when we emerge from this pandemic.

As part of Scottish and the wider UK’s longer-term economic recovery, it’s important that we collectively engage to explore how digital technologies and innovation can help, both in terms of the actions we need to put in place now, plus the steps we need to take to maximise the potential of technology and deliver a more resilient, green, thriving economy fit for the future.

Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on businesses, society and the economy and is likely to significantly accelerate the shift to digital and the pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. From virtual meetings to automated factories, online orders to drone delivery, digital services are growing in importance, permeating an increasing number of sectors and activities.

Digitally agile firms are adapting to the ongoing crisis more successfully, and others are rapidly upskilling in response to challenges to their business models.

A recent survey by BT Skills for Tomorrow and Small Business Britain found that more businesses in the Scotland are moving more of their services online for survival. Almost half (47 per cent) of small businesses in Scotland have moved online due to the pandemic; and over a third (36 per cent) now view digital skills and tools as a key focus area.

Forty-one per cent of the nation’s small businesses have drastically cut operational costs, with the need for physical offices and other traditional ways of working now increasingly being re-thought.

Looking to the future, 45 per cent are planning for less face to face contact and almost 30 per cent expect working from home to continue.

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly seen many businesses change their business models to adapt to the current situation, which could have a beneficial impact on recovery. However, this will not be the case for all and it’s vital that government continues to support and deliver policies to support digital transformation and skills by SMEs.

Even before the pandemic, Scotland was facing an alarming digital skills gap, which has only been exacerbated by this crisis. Millions of people and a significant number of businesses lack the essential digital skills they need, which risks widening social divides and already has an estimated £63bn annual impact on the UK’s competitiveness.

Through our Skills for Tomorrow programme we will help 10m people, families and businesses across the UK get the skills they need by 2025. But the task ahead is significant and will require intervention from multiple sectors, organisations and institutions to ensure the skills gap is bridged.

The Covid-19 pandemic will have an accelerating impact on the widespread adoption of digital technologies including IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and full fibre broadband. Left unchecked, this has the potential to further widen socio-economic inequality, with those underequipped to exploit the new technology being placed at a disadvantage, particularly within the world of work and in accessing public services.

AI technologies will represent the biggest shake-up in a lifetime to the labour market. This will present two high-level priorities for business and policymakers: retraining for people in jobs which will be displaced; and education and skills development for the jobs of the future.

The key challenge is how we can work together through and beyond the Covid-19 crisis to create a more productive economy, tackle climate change and build a healthy and more equal society.

Through initiatives such as Skills for Tomorrow, and by working with others, we are committed to helping the country navigate through this to build a better digital future – one where collaboration and innovation can provide the solutions to the challenges we face and in doing so ensuring that no-one is left behind in the transformation to a digital society.

 

Dr Mark Dames, Head of Policy, BT Group in Scotland.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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