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Research and insight

As part of our mandate to help UK SMEs increase productivity, Be the Business generates actionable insight through high-quality research. You can access our research and whitepapers below.

Skills for Success: Supporting business leaders with digital adoption – in partnership with The Open University

Be the Business has been working with The Open University on a report to understand the skills that are needed to help support SMEs with successful technology adoption.

We know that three years’ worth of innovation took place in three months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, we also know that of those businesses that adopt technology, most (53 per cent) are unsuccessful.

Both digital skills and leadership and management expertise play a role in increasing the likelihood of successful technology adoption. But are business leaders aware of the value of these attributes and how willing are they to upskill both themselves and their employees?

And, beyond the need for business leaders to take a proactive approach to skills development, what are they looking for from the learning and development ecosystem? What should training provision for SMEs look like going forwards?

SMEs and micro-businesses account for 99.7 per cent of the total business population in the UK and, with technology a key driver of productivity, the national economic opportunity from an increase in successful adoption is huge. This report seeks to answer the key questions around digital adoption, skills development and what more needs to be done to stimulate economic growth and raise firm-level productivity.

Access the full report is available below, as well as a webinar looking at the findings of the report.

The Be the Business Tech Adoption Lab – Insights Report

The Tech Adoption Lab helps small and medium-sized business owners overcome some of the biggest frustrations they face when buying technology: how to select and then successfully adopt and implement the right tech solution for their business.

The Tech Adoption Lab was designed by Be the Business and delivered in partnership with Cisco and the West of England Combined Authority.

The Lab helps successful adoption, but also generates significant insight into how barriers to tech adoption can be overcome, and the types of support that are of most benefit to SMEs undertaking a tech adoption journey. This insight will help inform large tech suppliers and enable each to better serve technology to the small business market, as well as helping policy makers design more impactful tech adoption support programmes.

 The process has proved extraordinarily successful, you can read the results and lessons learned in our Insights Report.

Be the Business Productive Business Index – Edition two Q1 2021

The headline Productive Business Index has increased from 102.88 to 108.77

The Productive Business Index has increased by around six points, reflecting increased optimism amongst UK SMEs.

On our index scale, a figure of zero represents the worst possible score, 100 no change, and 200 the best possible score.

The Business Performance Index has improved strongly and the Business Capabilities Index again scores highly.

Operating conditions remain tough for many, but the balance has shifted decisively

The proportion of businesses forecasting a decline in business conditions, revenues, volumes of orders or hiring over the next three months have all declined compared to the previous edition of the index.

Some 29 per cent now forecast an improvement in revenues over the next three months versus 21 per cent in the first edition of the index and 30 per cent forecast an increase in the volume of new orders versus only 23 per cent last time round.

There is a small increase in the proportion of companies planning activities that drive productivity improvements

SMEs continue to show high levels of activity focused on capability improvements.

More companies will spend more time on management and leadership initiatives and invest more in business technology. A third will increase the number of products and services they launch in the coming year.

Driving operating efficiencies is on the agenda for a large minority of businesses as well. This continues to be more common among SMEs with over 50 employees.

Brexit will have less of an effect on many firms, both short and long term, than coronavirus

Many SMEs believe that Brexit will have no impact on the business, with over 42 per cent saying it has made no difference in the short term.
Some 60 per cent of SMEs surveyed believed that the coronavirus crisis is more of a concern than Brexit, and 56 per cent believed the pandemic crisis will be more costly to the business than Brexit.

The four day week is becoming a reality for UK businesses

One in 20 micro, small and medium-sized companies has already adopted a four day week for employees who normally work five days. Alongside that, nearly a fifth (17 per cent) are in the process of considering this change. Some 29 per cent of business decision makers might consider it in the future.

Most industry sectors are turning the corner as the third lockdown ends

While some sectors including hospitality reported tough trading conditions over the last three months, nearly all forecast a more positive picture over the next quarter.

Management and leadership remains the dominant area of focus for business performance improvement

We ask businesses to rank the five areas of productivity improvement in order of importance to their business. There were only slight movements in how the five key areas of productivity improvement are ranked in this edition of the index.

While the importance of management and leadership declined slightly, it remains the biggest focus, followed by operating efficiency.

Be the Business Productive Business Index – Outlook for 2021

This is the first edition of a major new research programme to measure and track changes in UK micro and SME business performance and capabilities over time.

Over the past 12 months, UK micro and SMEs have made major changes to business models, innovated, and adopted technology on a huge scale. The transformation we have seen across the UK business community may have been driven by necessity and with survival in mind, but it will undeniably have an impact on business productivity and performance.

Working in partnership with Oxford Economics, we have developed a bespoke index model to track how the major investments of time and resources that have been made by SMEs change behaviour, performance and productivity.

In this first edition, which surveyed 1,500 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, we have uncovered some rich insights:

• Business conditions have stagnated or deteriorated with almost half (47 per cent) of micro, small and medium-sized businesses experiencing a worsening of general operating conditions over the last three months

• Businesses which generate some or all revenues from exports have been less affected by the impact of the pandemic and generally feel more optimistic about the future

• Of five important productivity areas, management and leadership is ranked by business leaders as the most important factor in improving company productivity

• Around half (48 per cent) of businesses say investment in technology has achieved the benefits they expected

• Flexible working in small businesses is here to stay with 44 per cent of those who have some flexible working activities expecting it to increase in the next 12 months

• The top three constraints to growth identified by businesses are the current economic climate, insufficient demand and competition within their sector

The UK’s technology moment – why 2020 can be the year that changed our trajectory on tech

Technology is at the heart of the UK’s productivity puzzle. We worked with McKinsey & Company to undertake the largest ever analysis of the UK SME tech market and find out why its not working.

Webinar: Transforming SME productivity through tech adoption

Hear from the experts and discover why 2020 can be the year that changes our trajectory on tech, empowering UK businesses to better navigate new and existing challenges.

Find out more

Recovery at risk

As the small and medium-sized business community responds to the crisis, we identify three distinct approaches to recovery amongst SMEs – Innovators, Stickers, and the Undecided. We also examine a wave of coronavirus-driven innovation amongst SMEs – over three years of innovation has taken place in three months.

Segmenting the business impact of coronavirus and where do firms go from here?

This paper sets out a four-part segmentation of where firms are today and four emerging themes for recovery. We identified four different segments from our research that capture both the current mindset of a leader and how they have reacted to the impact of coronavirus – Hibernators, Survivors, Pivoters, and Thrivers.

Raising UK competitiveness: Inside the mindsets of leaders of firms

How much does the mindset of SME leaders impact productivity? This study gives new insight into the behaviour and motivation of SMEs around improving business operations. It identifies conditions for and constraints on improvement – some familiar but some less well known.

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