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Opinion: Five reasons why businesses should be investing in digital skills

LSBU's Dean of the School of Business Mike Molan shares his thoughts on the positive impact that digital investment can have for businesses today
25 November 2015

Professor Mike Molan, former Dean of London South Bank University (LSBU)’s School of Business responds to a report by the London Chamber of Commerce that recommends that businesses should make more of a priority of developing an online presence. With some 24% of businesses in London currently having no digital presence at all, Professor Molan outlines five reasons that suggest the business community should consider investing further in digital skills.

The reasons

1. A digital presence can help keep a business visible in the market

“I’m not surprised that a quarter of businesses in London have no digital presence at all - we’re talking about small to medium enterprises here, where there’s still a conception that it would cost a lot of money to have a digital presence, that it’s going to be technically difficult to have that presence, and to maintain the presence in a way that looks professional. But whilst perhaps not too surprising, the figures are deeply worrying. There is no doubt now, if you don’t have a digital presence, you are going to be invisible in the marketplace. When you look at businesses today, it’s almost a game to find a single one that hasn’t been affected by the internet somehow. Those that do not understand how to adapt to this are going to be in trouble.”

2. New technology is disrupting traditional business models

“The rapid rise of the digital economy has meant that any business with assets that can quickly or easily be digitised is at risk of disruption. For example, media businesses in the most part have been completely overturned by the internet in recent years. Unless you understand the new technology, and also the selling strategies behind that technology, you are going to struggle to compete by simply maintaining the status quo. So many jobs can be automated now that technology is naturally going to disrupt existing markets. Beginning to sell your products online is just one obvious example of how technology can fundamentally change a business model.”

3. Today’s business students are ready for digital connectivity

“You can’t really engage in business education today without understanding the impact of the internet and social media. At LSBU’s School of Business, our undergraduate provision is very much designed to give students the sorts of skills that they will need for the future. If you take a core degree in Business Management, we provide students with the opportunity to combine it with e-commerce modules, for instance. This helps students to understand the impact of new technology on the business in its broadest sense. Aside from what we are doing inside the curriculum, we also creating a huge amount of opportunity outside the curriculum, giving all students opportunities to engage in business and enterprise projects that relate to their studies. Some of this may entail supporting the businesses that students run themselves, or enabling students to work with local businesses and partners on live business briefs. A recent project taught students in the National Bakery School the basics of developing a website, for instance. In a sense, any student who has a significant business idea now would be encouraged to look at the social media and web dimension supporting that.”

4. The rise of big data is changing the way business is done

“A key development in digital business has been the use of big data to profile customers. The aggregation of data about consumer buying habits is something that many large companies now engage in, allowing them to target their products and drive sales in a highly sophisticated way. Where 15 years ago this simply didn’t exist, if today anybody designing a marketing campaign or looking at the logistics of the business as a whole doesn’t understand data – and how that can drive the business – then they just can’t be competitive.”

5. A good digital presence can change the perception of your business

“There is an obvious need for businesses to invest in the creative side of developing a web presence. This is partly an aspect of branding; how the website’s look and feel says something about the company. But it’s also important because it can make a business simply look bigger than it really is. If you’ve got a well-designed website that is clear and easy to navigate, anyone on the site is going to think that this business knows what it’s doing. This can be a real game changer for businesses just starting out, or trying to compete in a crowded market. Businesses should also be focused on building effective relationships with their customers – the whole way people communicate now by text, through Facebook, is wholly different to what it once was. It’s so much more casual now. Companies who understand how to use digital media in this customer-friendly way will most likely be the ones to profit from the advanced digital technology."

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