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The growing digital divide in the UK is hurting the economy's growth, according to new research by the CBI and tech giant, IBM.

Its survey found that 55% adopting digital technologies and processes, with the remaining 45% falling behind. Despite the UK taking top place globally for e-commerce and fifth place for the availability of tech, it ranks just 14th in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology, with many companies struggling to digitise their businesses at the rate of those in other countries.

Companies surveyed cited a mix of connectivity challenges and security concerns as barriers to digital adoption, but they are predominantly (42%) hindered by a lack of appropriate skills and an unclear return on investment (33%).

The CBI and IBM said the issue is not a lack of conviction about the potential impact. Nearly all firms said that digital technology has the ability to revolutionise the business landscape, driving productivity (94%), growth and job creation, and almost three quarter (73%) see improved customer satisfaction and experience as its biggest benefit. To take advantage of digital technology across the economy, the CBI, the UK's biggest lobby group, recommends:

  • Adoption of a chief digital or technology officer to the senior executive team to drive digital strategy and execution.
  • Increasing the age and skills diversity of boards and board advisers, drawing on the expertise of a new generation of 'digital natives'.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said: "Businesses globally are in the throes of an extraordinary digital revolution that is transforming productivity and creating a new generation of winning companies. But in the UK, too many firms are being left behind. While pioneering firms are seizing digital opportunities, nearly half are struggling - a growing digital divide that is threatening UK competitiveness.

"It's vital that businesses in all sectors - from manufacturing to retail - truly understand digital technology's potential, from the boardroom to the shop or factory floor. Giving digital a human face by appointing a chief technology officer will help businesses build the long-term digital strategies that will be critical to their futures.

"And by harnessing the expertise of the generation at the heart of the digital revolution, firms will be better able to make the right investment for their digital future."

David Stokes, chief executive of IBM in the UK and Ireland, said: "The ground is shifting beneath the feet of today's business leaders, as digital sweeps every aspect of modern enterprise. It has left no industry or business untouched and presents huge opportunities for us all to work in innovative and more effective ways.

"As one of the leading digital economies in the world, we now find ourselves with the challenge of how to sustain and grow our position and this is an opportunity that we should be hugely excited to face."