How can businesses prepare for the uncertainty that Brexit will bring?
Brexit may be the best of times, it may be the worst of times; it could be the age of wisdom, it could be the age of foolishness; the spring of hope, the winter of despair.
You have to look pretty hard for equivocal attitudes to Brexit – until, that is, one asks the UK’s businesses about their preparations for our impending exit from the European Union. Back in March Avanade asked IT decision makers about their state of preparedness for Brexit, which was then 500 days away. We found a worrying degree of inertia, with Brexit seen as a low business priority, lagging behind other strategic priorities.
After a tumultuous summer marked by a surprising general election result and the beginning of EU-UK negotiations, we decided to see whether these events and the ever-looming deadline had focused IT leaders’ minds on the importance of preparing for disruption. The results are barely more encouraging than in the spring, with 40% of IT directors decelerating – or cancelling – vital IT projects.
Whether you have Great Expectations for Brexit, or if you believe that Hard Times lie ahead, making the right IT investment calls will have a significant effect on businesses’ ability to meet the momentous changes that lie ahead.
Movement in the right direction
It is alarming that two fifths of IT directors are reporting that critical IT projects are being slowed or cancelled, but there are some encouraging signs that organisations are beginning to appreciate the importance of pursuing strategic initiatives.
Just over half (56%) say that their organisation has become more willing to fund investment in major IT projects, while 43% say they have more money to spend on planned programmes. This might be due to the fact that organisations whose budgets are set in dollars are taking advantage of the precipitous fall in the value of the pound.
On the other hand, almost three quarters (71%) say that they have made significant progress in planning for Brexit, while 55% say that they rate themselves ahead of their competitors and peers.
One respondent summed up the rationale for getting their house in order in advance of the Brexit deadline: “If we can be strong leading up to Brexit, we will hold a competitive edge over others as we will be more stable.”
On the subject of “strong and stable”, it is interesting to note that more than half of IT directors say they feel less certain about how to plan for Brexit since the general election. Yet other businesses have now allowed the political situation to prevent their plans to implement much needed strategic IT initiatives.
The IT wish-list
While many businesses seem to be transfixed, rabbit-like, as the Brexit Express hurtles towards them, that’s not to say that they do not have a clear idea of the strategic IT projects that they want to implement.
Businesses are undertaking (or are planning to undertake) a raft of initiatives to make their IT more flexible and responsive. These include modernising applications, infrastructure and workplaces (cited by 84%), adopting cloud services (80%), streamlining operations (77%), implementing AI or automation, and improving service management (70%).
One major concern is the ongoing IT skills shortage, which some believe could be further exacerbated when Britain leaves the EU. A significant proportion of businesses are taking steps to insure themselves against a potential talent shortfall by outsourcing IT operations (35%), adopting managed services (28%), or investing in AI and automation (26%).
IT’s once-in-a-generation opportunity
Businesses have a deep appreciation of how IT investment can give them a much-needed advantage over their competitors. Yet while we’d expect Brexit to be a major driver for such transformational initiatives, it does not appear to be a particularly important motivating influence.
While we would not criticise any business for being bullish about their prospects in the post-Brexit age, they should surely be planning for the possibility of significant disruption after we leave the EU.
Businesses that invest wisely in boosting their flexibility, reducing their costs and optimising operational efficiency will have a winning advantage over their competitors, whatever the long-term outcome of Brexit. As one of our respondents put it: “While others are pondering what to do, we are moving forward…we do not want Brexit to negatively affect our growth [so] we are aggressively on it.”
Whatever your attitude to Brexit, there has rarely been a better time for dynamism. The IT department may never have a better opportunity to push their transformation projects than during the days that remain before Article 50 tips into action.
As Brexit ticks ever closer, IT directors should be making the case for how technology can prepare their business for uncertainty. If they seize this chance to transform their business, it may be a far, far better thing that they do than they have ever done.