While the British government considers how best to navigate new political landscapes, at home and abroad, it has left an important question unanswered. High up on many business’s agendas is when the UK government will outline its digital strategy, the publication of which it had promised for the summer of 2016.
Chair of the Committee for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Iain Wright lamented the delay, warning that Britain will be "left behind" and have its advantage in the digital economy "eroded" in the "absence of clarity and strategic focus" in this regard.
These concerns are shared by many here in London’s FinTech community, but also further afield. The wider European business community is putting pressure on governments to put in place a viable pathway towards an agile and enabled digital future.
On the European Commission’s latest proposals around data, representative body Digital Europe has concerns that the rules put forward will “hamper European companies’ ability to benefit from data driven innovation” and therefore not achieve the Commission’s aim to build a thriving European data economy.
Despite such roadblocks the Fourth Industrial Revolution is gathering pace, characterised by a fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. How, then, to navigate this emerging economy?
We might start by reflecting on the legacy systems and processes that encumber organisational efficiency. One example, dear to my heart, is the paper invoice.
Every day, businesses waste time and energy by manually checking invoice documents received from an increasingly global supply chain, when technology exists that can reject incorrect invoices before they even arrive. Later in the accounts payable process, masses of unanalysed procurement data lie stagnant in these paper invoices, instead of being quickly pulled to understand spending trends that can inform procurement decisions.
It's not only accounts payable that is suffering. Many business functions are currently being held back by legacy systems and attitudes causing problems and limiting growth. The back office is, pun intended, holding business back. Will 2017 be the year that digital automations and technical collaboration accelerate across the global supply chain?
This approach will strengthen global collaboration and revitalise economic growth, both things discussed recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos. There, Chinese president Xi Jinping championed economic globalisation, and challenged others in the business community to commit themselves to growing an “open global economy”.
This message was reiterated by Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, who aside from arguing that globalisation should not be blamed for the world’s problems shared his vision for the technological revolution.
Ma discussed the potential offered by small businesses across the world to spearhead an inclusive form of globalisation. He argued that growth over the next 30 years would be driven by smaller businesses joining the technological revolution, a development that will connect the unconnected.
In work streams like Procure to Pay – the implementation of a seamless process from point of order to payment – this is already becoming a reality, and more: small businesses are linking in partnership with large ones to innovate and grow. As a business that helps others with their digital transformation, and one that connects buyers and suppliers with streamlined e-invoicing and financial services capabilities, Tungsten Network sits at the heart of this global revolution.
From this position, we see time and again that businesses large and small who build their processes around digital possibilities save time and cost, reduce fraud and other risks, and assert greater control over their strategic outcomes. For 2017, the focus for both the public and private sectors should turn to technology-empowered growth strategies to help economies pick up pace. Pressingly, both should deliver agile back office work streams that better match their front end visions. Those that don’t may well get left behind.