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SMEs optimistic about 2020 growth prospects but face barriers to tech innovation and investment

5G could play a big role in driving growth in 2020 – and SMEs are keen

According to a BT-driven survey of 1,000 UK SMEs, nearly three in five (57%) are confident in the economic outlook for their business over the next 12 months, while around one third (30%) are more confident about their businesses’ growth prospects compared with last year.

SMEs that are looking to increase technology spend in the next 12 months are most confident in the economy and expect their business to grow in revenue and profit, compared to the average.  

In parallel however, SMEs also show signs of scepticism, with almost 30% expecting revenue and profit to decrease in the year ahead. 58% of SMEs surveyed pointed to concerns around costs and operational efficiency as being their biggest business challenge, whilst a similar proportion (51%) said that keeping ahead of competitors, being innovative in the market and keeping up to date with technology advances are ongoing challenges. 

In terms of technology investment, almost 40% of SMEs expect the speed and reliability of their internet connection to increase in importance this year, and a third of SMEs expect to invest more in technology than in the previous 12 months. 

Conversely, 68% are not looking to increase their technology investment, and a high proportion (81%) also do not expect to increase IT/telecoms spend in the coming 12 months. When asked about the barriers to investment, SMEs pointed to increased costs (52%); lack of internal awareness and expertise (38%) and limited time and resources (25%).

And whilst almost 60% of SMEs are likely to consider 5G for their business, 40% of SMEs using a mobile device are not aware of the benefits that 5G will have on business operations. A recent CBI report highlights the UK’s rapidly accelerating digital talent gap as new technologies transform the country. This is reinforced in the survey with almost 30% of SMEs agreeing that acquiring the right digital skills in business and enhancing their online presence is a significant challenge in the next 12 months.

“There is a clear indication that SMEs that are able to harness the potential of technology feel a greater sense of business confidence,” says Chris Sims, Managing Director, SME, for BT’s Enterprise business. “But whilst a large proportion of business operators recognise the importance of connectivity and the need to digitise, they are being held back by a lack of awareness around the benefits of this new tech, which is costing the UK an estimated £63bn a year. It’s clear that SMEs need more support to help them embrace the new wave of digital transformation which will be ushered in by 5G and a more mobile centric approach to running businesses.” 

Almost half of all SMEs surveyed believe BT should play a role in providing digital skills training. BT has recently announced its Skills for Tomorrow initiative – a major new programme designed to empower 10 million people by giving them the skills they need to flourish for the digital future.  BT has collaborated with leading digital skills organisations such as Google, to collate the best courses and information, in one easy to navigate place, with these free resources available to anyone. Everyone is included – from school children to older people; from young adults looking for employment; to SMEs looking for growth.

“In this digital era, the fact is that every business, big or small, needs to think and act like a technology business to succeed. Whilst the research suggests some mixed business confidence this year, we believe the key to helping SMEs thrive is empowering them with the right digital tools to help them grow their business and better position them for the future,” adds Sims. 

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