Pic: Julie Hawker, CEO of Cosmic Ethical IT
An odd question perhaps, but what comes to your mind about your use of technology in your business and your experiences of digital technologies to date?

To quick start your thinking, here are a couple of startling statistics:




So far this year 38 million - or 76% of - British adults accessed the internet every day.

(And, yes, that does say “every day”)

One third of small businesses and charities don’t have basic online skills in their organisation, and of these, 75% are not currently investing in skills development

(Source: Lloyds Digital Index 2014)


Obviously a lot of businesses are missing out on opportunities! Here are some more questions to think about to make sure you are not one of them.

  • How do you judge the use of digital technology in your business? (Good, fair, poor)
  • Does your current use of digital align with your plans for the future? (Or will it limit the ways in which you approach business development?)
  • What are the key features of digital in your business which you know are working well right now? (And do you know what isn’t working so well?)
  • How are you planning to take advantage of the massive growth of digital mobile technologies to provide your business with improvement and competitive advantage?
  • What do you know could be improved through digital technology and therefore put your business in a better position for success in future?
  • What do you know about your competitors and their use of digital? (When did you last review your competitors and their use of digital?)

And on a more practical level:

  • How many times does the word ‘digital’ appear in your business plan for the year ahead?

Many of you will have gone through these questions with some assurance about the answers. If that’s true then go back to the top of the list again,  and this time think more closely and honestly about how well you are responding relative to your current business plan, and more importantly to the plan you have for the years ahead. The plain truth here is that there are very few businesses which can afford to ignore the power of digital technologies in the course of the next 3 – 5 years. And if you don’t do it then prepare to face severe competitive disadvantage storms along the way!

If we don’t specifically plan our businesses understanding the context and impact which digital technologies can hold, then we are surely missing out on opportunities and improvements.

And again, for those of you who still need the evidence of how digital has supported success in business in recent years, remind yourselves of the Lloyds Digital index findings which shows the gaps between businesses who do know how to exploit the potential, and those being left behind. The tale of the Disconnected, Basic Adopters, Passive Users, Starters, Established Users, Advanced Users, and Innovators. Check out the Superfast Business Guide on How Digital is Your Business and Does it Make a Difference?

Some of reports finding include:

  • Almost 1.5 million organisations in the UK have a high degree of digital maturity meaning they invest significantly in infrastructure training and use of digital security techniques
  • Over 1.9 million organisations have a medium level of digital maturity – basic social media presence, simple e-commerce tool, some online banking
  • Almost 1.7 million organisations have a very low level of digital understanding and capability – make no use of the internet at all and do not have web or social media presence.

Plenty of room for improvement then.

A third of SMEs and charities don’t have basic online skills in their organisations, and 75% are not currently investing in skills development. Indeed, only 1 in 4 organisations are actively seeking digital help in the first place! (and those that are looking for basic functions such as website maintenance or design, and 25% don’t even know what support they need).

What are the barriers to using digital in businesses then? Well the Lloyds Digital Index report tells us that they are -

Lack of relevance for customers (really?) – 29%
No time to set up and go online – 14%
Lack of staff digital skills – 11%
Just not interested in going online – 10%
Not worth the investment – 7%
Too expensive – 6%
Other priorities for investment – 6%
Concerns about security/information/fraud – 5%
Cost of investment unknown – 3%
Poor connectivity – 2%

Let’s take a look at some businesses which have truly embraced digital and made it effective in their plans and approach to markets.

Rentokil – mobile apps to improve business services

Here we have a business which is heavily reliant on the quality of service provided by frontline employees (mobile technicians) who travel between customer sites delivering a range of services from pest control to washroom management. Of the total workforce of 32,000 employees, around 7,000 are in this category.

The company previously deployed these workers with PDAs equipped with old-style apps but employees became less engaged with this system. The use of mobile devices has been common in the business for 10 – 15 years. The next phase of mobile technologies has now been developed and deployed and it involves a mobile platform from Kony complete with a product set including specialised apps which will run on a number of mobile devices – laptops, tablets and smartphones. And so now, the same system is used by sales and other staff, not just by the technicians delivering services.

Boohoo.com – online retailer turns to Vlogger Zoella

Many of you will know the brand Boohoo which markets its clothing and fashion products widely and appeals to a mass audience of purchasers. It was already fairing reasonably well in the massive competition for online sales, and then last year it spotted an opportunity for a USP in the marketplace.

Zoella (or Zoe Sugg) had already made a major impression with her online video blogging (Vlogging) from her bedroom. She had developed a style, brand and audience around talking through her shopping experiences and products she’d enjoyed and valued.  Her YouTube account receives average 12 million views a month and 6 million subscribers (that’s 26 times higher than British Vogue!). The vast majority of her ‘fans’ are girls and aged 13 – 17, in other words ideal market for Boohoo product range.

Working with Boohoo she has now developed her Vlog ‘Haul’ videos – in which she shops for a number of fashion items and clothing to talk through online. Boohoo has reached a massive new audience online to boost its sale. Watch out for more news on this partnership and for the results to be reported!

Addison Lee – digital app “SmartEngine” improves Taxi Services

Keeping with the mobile technologies theme, but in a very different business, this is a major taxi company in London and one which has gained a major competitive advantage through the deployment of an app which allows travellers to book a taxi, but also to schedule taxis up to three months in advance, and to track where the taxi is on its way to collect you. Their app is “SmartEngine” and has been recognised to support the success of the business which provides on average 22,000 journeys every day - reporting lately that over 50% of jobs are now booked using digital channels.  The app offers users a chance to pre-book at a set price (avoiding surge pricing or long waits during peak times).  Competition beyond the other locally-based taxi firms also comes in the shape of a global business models like Uber, GetTaxi and Hailo, which are setting out to use mobile technology to support private-hire drivers and taxis in any location.


These are great examples from businesses which looked at how to really make progressive use of digital technologies and gain improvements within the business or distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace. But there is also a major case to be made for digital to be applied at the very heart of all businesses where it could potentially make the biggest difference, particularly in small businesses which have yet to fully embrace digital in their plans. For example, the implementation of an effective CRM (customer relationship management system) can make substantial differences in the ways in which our businesses relate to clients, and provide opportunities for improved communications, marketing and sales management. In other words a great CRM very often leads to great customer experiences and great performance management too.

So why not take the time now to review your business and how well it’s doing with digital. Consider your business in layers, like an onion, and how digital can impact at the very levels of business planning – from customer-facing activities on the outer layers, to the very core of the business in the centre (what you do, how you do it, values, purpose, etc.).

And, on top of knowing our business well and how we could improve on the use of digital, as business managers we also clearly need to understand fully how our customers and audience are using the internet – and this requires a different set of evidence, research and evaluation.

For example you could look at the OXIS survey results which contain some very useful information about how (as individuals) we are using and benefiting from the web, based on demographics, lifestyles, gender, income levels, etc.

If you haven’t already, please register to take advantage of the free resources on the Superfast Business Knowledge Hub.


Julie Hawker

CEO Cosmic Ethical IT 2015

Julie's strengths include strategic planning, project development, relationship and network development. She is a keen advocate of IT solutions which truly improve businesses and lives. Julie contributes in various training programmes and our consultancy service, particularly where organisations are seeking to develop leadership and their business models. She is well known for her passion for social enterprise and successful achievement in all our work.



Tags: Digital Digital Business Digital Marketing digital leaders Digital technology

Search the Knowledge Base for guides, checklists and top tips