Interest rate rises and Brexit woes: can technology save UK business?
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Interest rate rises and Brexit woes: can technology save UK business?

The first interest rate rise in 10 years will fuel the economic storm that has been building since the Brexit referendum. Simon Kent looks at how important IT will be in helping UK business emerge unscathed.

 

Brexit will go down in history as an event which bizarrely caused untold damage BEFORE it even happened.  All conversations about economic woes and challenges faced by businesses seemingly lead to the same inevitable conclusion: it’s all Brexit’s fault.

Regardless of how much of this hysteria is warranted, there is no denying that the climate for UK businesses is turbulent.  First, there’s the false comfort offered by an unnaturally prolonged period of low interest rates.  This has bred a culture of financial complacency which is likely to crumble as the impact of the interest rate increase sets in. Meanwhile, global competition and disruptive technologies have made the fight for customers harder than ever.  Brexit, bringing with it heaps of uncertainty, has added to this atmosphere of fear. 

Can IT help? Yes it can – and in many ways.  Effective IT directly addresses many of the key areas that impact financial business performance:

Business efficiency
Every department or service within the business is profoundly affected by IT.  Technology oils the wheels of every process and ensures staff can perform at their optimum level.  Therefore, every aspect of technology – from the equipment, software and services, through to the processes connecting them and the support which ensures their upkeep – directly impacts the quality of the business. IT is the unsung and unheralded hero behind business efficiency and this efficiency has a direct connection with the bottom line of the business.

Customer service
As it gets harder to differentiate the products and services a business offers, and acquisition of customers becomes harder because of the constant fight for consumer attention, the customer experience comes even more important. Winning and retaining customers is a key battleground in which IT has a massive role to play.

The days of customer service being left to the call centre are over. The customer experience starts and is often defined online.  Online chat, self-service support, automated ordering, and social media are instrumental to how customers interact with the business.  The brand is established from the moment that customers ‘touch’ the business online and technology runs through every one of these touch points.  And when the customer does speak to the business, either on the phone or face-to-face, the quality of the data held in the CRM or ordering system has a huge bearing on the quality of these interactions.  IT, once again, is irrevocably connected to one of the defining factors of business success.

Ordering and fulfillment
Once customers have decided they want a product or service, speed and convenience is everything. Services like Amazon Prime Now have ushered in the era of same-day deliveries and any business not able to offer a slick ordering service, with hassle-free returns, smart appointment making/tracking/notifications and rapid fulfillment will be at a major disadvantage.  None of this can happen with massive involvement from IT.

Innovation
In very broad terms, there are two types of business. Firstly, there are those companies battling day-to-day to keep up with demand. The second business type has time, headspace and resources to develop new products and services based on customer feedback.

I will guarantee that any business in the second category has the fundamentals of IT running very smoothly and efficiently.  This isn’t about innovative IT. It’s about building an IT platform that gives a business the freedom to innovate.  It’s a subtle but crucial difference. 

The role of IT is not just harnessing technology to solve the current and future economic challenge. It is explaining – and reassuring – the business that it is able to help overcome adversity.

Not every IT professional has this ‘bigger picture’ perspective. The business can no longer afford for IT to be introverted and narrow-minded.  As I’ve explained, IT is now so important and far-reaching that it needs to be led by IT professionals who understand their goal is to help the business firstly survive, and then thrive – whatever the economic outlook.

Is your IT optimised for 2018? Take a look at our article which explains the key areas you need to be addressing right now.