Reviewing Scotland’s Innovation Revolution

June 11th, 2021 Written by Ed Marshall

Scotland’s Innovation Revolution

Of all the changes to our lives since the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK, the acceleration in the adoption of digital products and services has been the one that will arguably be the most long-lasting.

Confined into our homes for months on end, people became more reliant on digital tools and services than at any point in our history. The wholesale switch to digital ways of working, communicating, and collaborating occurred in just a matter of months – much faster than the five-to-ten year forecasts suggested prior to the pandemic.

It has transformed the business landscape everywhere, not least in Scotland. Rather than a gradual return to the pre-Covid ways of working, digitisation is on course to become more ubiquitous. And this is a forecast with data to back it up.

The unlocking of innovation lies with the young

Infinity Works recently commissioned research that explored the attitudes to digital innovation of 250 senior leaders in Scottish organisations with more than 500 employees. The results showed that the impetus to embed innovation at the heart of companies is being driven by the younger generations of business leaders.

Indeed, the research revealed that 42% of Scotland’s business leaders aged 25-44 see innovation and digital investment as their number one priority for the next 12 months. Not only is this cohort mostly utilising digital technologies already to help drive their businesses forward, they are doing so at a much greater rate than their 45+ counterparts.

We can see the evidence in the marketplace. The historic Scottish finance institutions such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Bank of Scotland (BOS) are now sharing the limelight with the likes of Skyscanner, a metasearch engine and travel agency based in Edinburgh now valued at close to £2BN.

Cloud and data for optimal customer experiences

Older business leaders care about their customers, but younger leaders are more likely to invest in technology that enhances the customer experience as much as to support post-Covid recovery.

Using data and analytics, cloud-based services, and the internet of things (IoT), they are better understanding behaviours and needs and adapting business models to provide truly optimal services.

However, despite the enthusiasm for such technologies, only 25% of businesses overall are using data for strategic decision making – the biggest challenge, according to our research, being a lack of in-house skills. Such is the extent of the shortage, only 18% of digital transformation projects are being delivered by internal teams.

This is not to say that the remaining 82% aren’t engaged in digital transformation. Many within this figure are instead using the services of consultancies which specialise in delivering technological overhauls and future-proofing their clients.

Cloud and data are the critical tools modern businesses need to be leveraging to provide the quick, personalised, and responsive experiences customers are looking for.

What sectors can benefit from technological innovation?

It’s more a case of which sectors can’t. The likes of data analytics and cloud-based services can provide advantages to just about any business or organisation, but there are some that can benefit more than others.

FinTech, for example, is a sector that is built squarely on technological innovation and has become one of the most exciting and inventive sectors in recent years. In order to provide their customers with the services that differentiate them from the high street banks, their solutions are cloud-native, heavily automated, and often adapted based on analysis of their customers and their data.

The businesses that embrace modern technologies will become the powerhouses of the UK economy.

The key factors for capitalising on innovation

Before considering undertaking any digital transformation initiatives, business leaders first need to understand the reasons behind wanting to transform, and ensure they align with their organisation’s goals. For example, to derive value from data and to be able to use it as a strategic asset, leaders need to first establish clear KPIs and a clearly defined strategy. By doing this, they’ll be able to see measurable progress towards the desired business outcomes as quickly as possible.

The generational impact is also important. Though older business leaders may not be as likely to prioritise digital innovation, digital innovation is only going to become more widespread. Younger business leaders are investing in it now and younger customers are increasingly expecting it.

Nevertheless, an ability to capitalise on innovation isn’t just about integrating new technologies. It also requires an equal focus on business processes and having people who can adapt to changing market conditions.

It is here that businesses, education institutions, and the government must continue working together to drive efforts to plug the digital skills gap and help Scotland and the wider UK to become a true hub of data and technology innovation.

Digital Transformation

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Written by Ed Marshall
Ed Marshall is Director of Technology at Infinity Works.