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2015 was a promising year for UK businesses. The British economy showed signs of improvement, with GDP improving at a steady pace that looks likely to continue into 2016. Companies increasingly embraced the opportunities presented by digital technology, and the impact of this technology was visible across all business aspects from the way in which employees work, to how customers interacted with businesses and their customers’ growing expectations.

But, what’s next? With so many changes on the horizon, 2016 is poised to be an interesting year for UK plc.

Here are my top five predictions for business in 2016.

A scalable, global business – whatever the size

In 2016, ‘Brand Britain’ will go global as UK businesses (particularly smaller businesses) connect to new markets and build a national and international presence. Businesses will increasingly look to expand their business operations, find export opportunities and acquire new talent to support an extended geographical reach.

All businesses, even smaller ones, now need to think and operate nationally, if not globally, to continue to grow and compete with their larger competitors. In 2016, the challenge for businesses will be how they can quickly connect people and information in diverse locations in order to facilitate rapid expansion and create a ‘local’ presence without significant investment. Next year we’ll see further adoption of cloud and collaboration technology, as well as more businesses joining up their online, landline and mobile communications systems as a cost effective and efficient means of communicating across borders.

Attracting and retaining the right people with the right skills to support this expansion will be vital. Increasingly, businesses can find and take on people with specific expertise without being constrained by having space in their office to accommodate more people, or by the candidate’s location and proximity to the office itself. Through flexible working and making best use of technology, a business can now recruit from anywhere and keep their workforce connected and collaborating effectively with colleagues and customers, regardless of location.

Key to the success of this global approach is the need to have the technology and communication tools in place to facilitate it, so we’ll see adoption of these tools continue to grow.

According to research conducted in 2015 by The Open University Business School, small businesses are using mobile and web-based services more and more, for tasks such as managing their finances, to offering their employees a remote working function. The research also found that more than 21% of respondents are now using ‘cloud-based’ providers to run their back office services, compared with two years ago when just 8% of respondents reported using them.

Next year, we will see a surge in SMEs embracing and even customising new technologies to help them deal with customers, expand their business operations, improve business productivity, increase revenue and profitability, drive innovation and remain competitive.

Work/life balance: An achievable goal

New research from Robert Half UK reveals opportunities for flexible working are increasing dramatically in UK firms. In the last three years the prevalence of remote working has increased by over a third (37%) amongst UK companies. This is no surprise, as our own research has shown that flexible working is a key driver of productivity, performance and organisational innovation as well as employee satisfaction and wellbeing. In fact, two thirds of those employees who have tried flexible working feel that it has enhanced their job satisfaction.

An increase in the adoption of flexible working practices and ubiquitous connectivity has led to less rigid working hours and locations. This in turn affords employees not only a greater work/life balance but also presents the challenge of carving out time to ‘switch off’. In 2016 we will see an increased focus from employers encouraging their employees to know how and when to switch off, and tools and settings that give individuals greater control will become more important.

The continued investment in our 4G network will further challenge ‘traditional’ ways of working and enable productivity levels when out of the office to rival those achieved in the office. Working in this way also allows people to switch off safe in the knowledge that they have completed their work regardless of the location in which it was done.

The freedom and control that flexible working practices and tools give businesses and their employees means that as we move into 2016, offering employees the ability to achieve a work/life balance is something that should sit firmly at the top of any businesses agenda.

Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to explode and reach into every aspect of our lives

The explosion of the IoT has been hard to avoid this year, and it looks set to continue in 2016. The idea of connecting people and devices has moved to the forefront for almost every business, as we become an even more digital world

2016 will see more businesses looking to connect the things that matter. Regardless of the size of a company, there is an opportunity for a business to seize the potential in the IoT. This could be things ranging from utilities, smart meters, and fleet management to more straightforward applications such as sensors which could report machine performance results – simple but effective for an SME.

The IoT will also become vital to the customer experience. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the benefits the IoT can bring them. The IoT has opened up a dialogue with consumers that’s more sophisticated than ever before, as it enables customer personsalisation and the ability for two way communication between a business and its customer in real time. For example, retailers now understand that IoT applications can strengthen the purchasing experience through personalisation, smarter payment methods and digital signage - all while streamlining internal operations. 2016 may be the year that these applications go mainstream, making the life of a consumer even easier.

We’re also seeing evidence of how the IoT, or M2M technology, could completely change the way in which some public services are delivered. Vodafone found that if local government organisations took advantage of technologies like the IoT, they could save up to £400 million a year – food for thought for the future.

Security; a trend that’s here to stay

The age of bring your own device and an increasingly mobile and connected workforce means that companies have to be aware of security and cyber threats more than ever before. Flexible working tools are a positive thing for business, but they also bring with them their own security considerations.

As everything becomes interconnected and customers increasingly interact and purchase online, businesses know that security has to be high on the agenda and a focus for investment and ongoing development. In fact, recent EY research showed that more than half of UK firms are planning to spend more on security next year, signifying a paradigm shift in the perception of the value of investing to mitigate risks, rather than to see a direct return on investment.

Digital technology key to future success

2016 is a year where businesses are set to once again welcome technology with open arms, ready to take on the challenges and opportunities that the year will bring. In fact, 9 out of 10 of the UK’s business leaders see digital technology as vital to the future success of their business, meaning businesses need to continually evolve and embrace technology if they are to ensure they are not left behind in 2016.

By Phil Mottram, Enterprise Director, Vodafone UK