By Daniel Hunter

It was 30 years ago that the first Internet domain was registered and, four years later, the science fiction film ‘Back to the Future II’ predicted the emergence of smartphone technology, drones that deliver parcels, and the rise of social media and e-commerce companies.

Now, new research reveals that these technologies are now central to British business. In fact, the study by Brunel University London, in partnership with Applegate, suggests that digitisation is driving the evolution of the sector to unprecedented levels.

It found that 98% of the 830 businesses surveyed have a website, 8 in 10 now manage their finances online, 53% provide flexible-working for staff and remote access, and — looking forward — 63% see digital innovation as a key tool to further enhancing customer satisfaction.

The study did however reveal a major gulf between big business and SMEs, with larger firms significantly more digitised than their smaller, usually more nimble, counterparts. This raises concerns over the health of the SME sector, given its size, at a time when the Government’s growth agenda has prioritised nurturing and supporting new and evolving enterprises — and for whom the digital battleground has broken down traditional barriers to entry.

For the first time the study has created a scoring system for measuring the digitisation of British business. It also reveals wide-ranging regional variations in the digitisation of business, with the East Midlands and South West emerging as the most digitised regions of the UK — ahead of businesses in London.

The Applegate-Brunel Digitisation Index (ABDI) is a new measure against which companies can benchmark their digital maturity as a business, and by which policy makers can assess the health of businesses and sectors against a consistent measure. This novel survey covers four main areas of business operations — buying, selling, innovation and management. The study also provides a national gauge to assess the take-up and use of digital technologies by businesses across UK regions and industry sectors. This index will be published annually, to track both overall movement and also changes in different regions and types of business.

Digital business in Britain today - 10 facts at a glance

1. 98% have a company website
2. 88% make extensive use of online banking
3. 64% find more than half of their suppliers online
4. 63% expect digitisation to further improve customer satisfaction
5. 53% provide remote access to staff
6. 52% research customer requirements online
7. 46% have an intranet
8. 45% make more than half of their purchases online
9. 44% spend more than half of their marketing budget online
10. 41% have adapted their websites for tablets and smartphones

Stuart Brocklehurst, CEO at Applegate Marketplace, said: “In just 25 years the world wide web has transformed British business. Life without a website today is simply unimaginable and businesses big and small are embracing the ability to research, to source, to pay and to manage through digital technologies. Engagement is universal, although our research does suggest many businesses can do still more to reap the benefits of digital technology fully. For example, whilst they research avidly online, only one in five businesses sell their products online. Also, more needs to be done to help the SME sector digitise at the same pace as big business to help them compete on an equal footing on the UK and internationally. The creation of this index to measure digitisation will help provide a benchmark for the business community to ensure it is making the most of technology in order to invest in business growth for the future.”

Professor Zahir Irani, Dean of Business, Arts and Social Sciences at Brunel University London, said: “This new index provides businesses with a means to better understand themselves, through assessing what competitive advantage they have or to help prioritise those gaps they need to close to enhance their own performance. We see companies being able to make strategic decisions about where and how they invest based on information taken from this survey. Policy makers have a real opportunity to use the data to direct Government funding to inform regional, cities and town digital agendas.”

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