Rachel Neaman
Inspiration Stories

Digital for all

Rachel Neaman, Director of Skills and Partnerships at Doteveryone and voted as one of Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in IT 2016, discusses the digital deficit, and the opportunity for SMEs

Digital. It’s a term bounced about an awful lot in society, both in terms of work and play. But what exactly does it mean?

Given the way that digital tech has developed over the years, some people think of it as IT, some as data, some as networks – the list goes on. But whatever the case, there is one definite constant. Rachel Neaman, Director of Skills and Partnerships at Doteveryone, explains: “Digital is now ubiquitous in everything that we do in our daily lives – and it’s here to stay.”

Doteveryone is a digital charity committed to proving the good of tech for the future, and for everyone. Its agenda, like its name, revolves around the concept of digital democratisation.

In the UK this concept is very much a work in progress. “We define the digital deficit as the consequence of not making the best use of digital technology,” says Rachel. “And there is a clear digital deficit in the UK today. We’re not making the most of everything that digital technology offers.

It’s horses for courses. And yet there is no business that would tell you it doesn’t want to be more effective and productive.

“What that means is that there are social consequences. People are living lives that are less easy, less rewarding and less successful. There are also economic consequences, political consequences, consequences for the democratic process – and all of this wasted opportunity we call the digital deficit.”

The research proves the fact. The latest EU Digital Economy and Society Index characterised the UK as ‘lagging ahead’, meaning that although still one of the six best performers within Europe, the UK’s rate of growth and acceleration of the use of digital is falling behind others. The latest figures for Scotland alone suggest that 25% of all Scottish SMEs lacked even the very basic digital skills.

Moreover, a report recently carried out by Doteveryone showed that the UK economy was losing £63 billion in GDP as a result of the digital deficit. “These are substantial figures for something that has become such an everyday tool,” says Rachel.

And so the question is: why? Infrastructure, particularly the availability of superfast broadband, is a significant factor – particularly in Scotland. The other two factors identified by Doteveryone are a lack of skills, and a perceived lack of time to invest in realising what digital can actually do for businesses.

This is not to say that all businesses need complete digital upheavals, though. Just as digital means different things to different individuals, so it is with different businesses. It’s important to realise that the nature of any given business will dictate its digital needs. A craft brewery, for example, may need less in the way of digital functionality than an online-only clothing retailer. But rare would be the business that had no digital needs at all.

Employers now arguably have a duty of care to ensure that their workforces are digitally literate.

“It’s horses for courses,” says Rachel. “And yet there is no business that would tell you it doesn’t want to be more effective and productive, that it would rather take the longer way to do certain things. Even a manual business like a car garage will rely on internal systems requiring some level of digital literacy, whether that’s taking bookings online, invoicing or ordering parts.”

With this in mind, Doteveryone has created a framework of the key basic digital skills – skills, Rachel says, that all individuals and all businesses need in order to survive in the 21st century. The skills are separated into five categories: Managing Information, Communicating, Transacting, Problem-solving and Creating.

Rachel says: “Regardless of their nature, all businesses need to be able to manage information because they need to keep their files and customer data in order. They need to be able to communicate in order to do outreach and marketing. They need to be able to transact so they can take and/or make online payments. They need to be able to problem-solve so that they can understand how to deal with problems they or their customers encounter. And finally, they need to be able to create, be that a website, a social media presence or marketing collateral.”

The onus on SMEs to digitise themselves is especially great, yet the opportunity is greater still. Research has shown that those with high levels of digital maturity are more than a third more likely to report increases in turnover than less digitally savvy businesses.

SMEs need only start small when adopting. A well-informed set of relevant, adaptable digital capabilities can transform a business’s present, and shape both their and their employees’ futures.

“Digital is the key enabler of the 21st century,” says Rachel. “So much so that employers now arguably have a duty of care to ensure that their workforces are digitally literate. How we ensure that we make the most of digital in every aspect of our daily lives, whether that’s at work or at play, is critical to how we are going to develop as individuals, as a society and as an economy. And there should never be stigma in reaching out for help when trying to achieve this.”

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