Q&A Feature with Scott Knowles, Chief Executive at East Midlands Chamber:
How have the past 12 months changed you, the way you work, and how you conduct business? The pandemic has irrevocably altered our mindset, with a pronounced shift towards digital experiences. Lockdown has ironically ensured that we are now more connected than ever before. With terms such as ‘hybrid working’, ‘cryptocurrency’ and ‘biometrics’ being firmly part of the business lexicon, we explore digital transformation with one of East Midlands’ dynamic thought leaders in the field, Scott Knowles.
Docuflow sat down for an interview with Scott Knowles, Chief Executive at East Midlands Chamber. Scott’s background in the information and communications technology sector saw him advise businesses in preparation for the then impending ‘millennium bug’ in 1999. It is his forward-thinking approach that has led him to continue helping businesses embrace emerging internet technologies for the past two decades.
Read on to discover Scott’s thoughts on digital transformation, how the Chamber is assisting local businesses now, his thoughts on upcoming technologies and how businesses can trade successfully in a post-Brexit and post-Covid world.
What are your thoughts on Digital Transformation and upcoming technologies such as AI, cryptocurrency and biometric authentication?
The pandemic has demonstrated that digital transformation is essential to all businesses, of all sizes, in all sectors. As a Chamber of Commerce with over 4,000 members, we help a range of businesses from local to global, and start-up to scale-up organisations. What we have seen, is that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation strategies; activity that would have been taken years to implement has, for some, been condensed to fit over one weekend.
Every successful business has to embrace digital transformation. This includes machine learning, AI, holography and many more emerging technologies. This implementation of digital transformation that can boost productivity and efficiency can be a real difference-maker and give businesses a much needed USP. Having a digital transformation strategy is great, but what also matters is how you implement it so it becomes part of a company’s business model.
The Chamber is assisting local organisations build back better and faster. How much a part does digital transformation play in their business plans over the coming years?
The pandemic has brought the importance of digital transformation to the fore, which is why I can say it is now integral to any business plan going forward.
We are continuously working with high street businesses to help them embrace digital transformation, and one of the quickest ways for them to do this, is to implement a highly visible e-commerce website. We might also make suggestions to a traditional bricks-and-mortar-store, on how they can expand their offerings by becoming a vendor on an online retail platform such as eBay or Amazon.
Multi-platform presence and diversification of revenue stream means decreasing reliance on a bricks-and-mortar-store. In expanding offerings online, we would recommend that the business enables acceptance of all modern forms of payment. ApplePay, biometric authentication (such as fingerprint or facial recognition systems) are just two examples that could help businesses become more accessible and expand trade whilst operating in the 21st century. Once digital transformation is carved out as one of the pillars of a business plan, in case of another lockdown, the business is safeguarded and it can continue trading with little interruption.
Do you have any advice or tips on how businesses can trade successfully in a post-Brexit and post-Covid world?
Business resilience is about diversification of revenue streams. This can be achieved by expansion into different sectors for untapped indigenous markets, or by embracing digital transformation both here at home and overseas.
Maximisation of a customer base is really important, and what we’re seeing is a real transition of businesses selling to overseas markets. For some exporters, this has been difficult, but we’re seeing real growth in global markets including Canada, Mexico and North America.
For businesses who need help exploring new technology, the Chamber is proud of its Digital Upscaler Programme* which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by East Midlands Chamber. We support ambitious high growth businesses by providing them with the knowledge, investment and capacity to scale-up through embracing new technologies. Project support covers intensive digital adviser support, capital technology grants starting from £10,000, access to the Digital strategy programme and Technology Forums and funded diagnostic consultancy and support to implement new technology.
Do you think the capabilities of Digital Transformation have been explored fully by Midlands’ businesses?
It has been mixed. I think there are certain sectors that have fully embraced digital transformation. This includes utilising both current and emerging technologies. Organisations who have done this have felt its benefits over the last year. On the other hand, some businesses are still on the starting blocks but have started to realise that digital transformation is a cornerstone and an intrinsic part of a roadmap to business continuity and success, especially in a post-Covid world.
What can you we collectively do to work more sustainably?
There is a huge appetite for businesses to look at their own sustainability. Build back better is a key message from the government. One of the most popular enquiries we have, is: “How can we build back better?”
We launched the Sustainable East Midlands campaign, to put this region at the forefront of the UK’s ‘Build Back Greener’ vision. It is more than just working more sustainably or delivering a low carbon economy. There is real meaning in possessing green credentials that is creating a competitive edge when it comes to attracting the next generation of talent (who are environmentally conscious and who seek green credentials when choosing to join a company as a new hire).
The Chamber’s role is showcasing best practice by looking at how companies can work more sustainably and it is great that we are exploring how we can all work towards a low-carbon agenda.
What do you foresee for businesses this year?
This year is all about businesses returning to pre-pandemic levels of trading growth. To achieve this involves digital transformation so we are all able to work more efficiently and more productively.
Generally, automation costs have decreased, so right now digital transformation is really accessible to SMEs. Small businesses will have a more confident outlook, be able to work smarter and be more productive, a sentiment that is reflected in our latest Economic Survey. This survey uncovered a significant amount of confidence; coming out of lockdown, a net +23% expect to see their workforce grow, whilst confidence levels for the 12 months ahead are as high as they’ve been since Q2 2019 i.e. pre-pandemic.
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