Digital Futures – the tools or your mindset?

Yesterday, 4th February 2014, I spoke at the Business South Event to a group of businesses and stakeholders that care about their growth and the growth of the local economy. 

I thought I would share the words I shared to see if they resonate or support you and your missions.


Today I have been asked to share my thoughts on Digital Futures which to some of you may sound exciting, to others terrifying and to a few of you, utterly boring! Which ever camp you are in I truly hope I can add some value to you and your business

To set the scene, I am not going to talk about predictions and advances in technology. I think for the majority of people in the room the level of technology on offer now would fulfil you for the next 5 years if you embraced it fully.

Currently, about 79% of the population are online however the remaining 21% (10.8 million people) are currently non-users with either economic, social or physical barriers stopping them from enjoying the benefits and potential cost savings of online services.

My past 16 years have been focused on assisting Small and Micro Businesses embrace the digital opportunity. This started in 1998 when my husband and I founded Ecademy, a for-runner to LinkedIn which came along in 2003. Our belief was that the world would transform when we all become personally connected. Ecommerce and the fact this was a new way to sell was already taking off, but the ability to learn to connect and become friends with one another had not been considered until Ecademy.

Now I focus on two companies, The Digital Youth Academy that connects Born Digital Youths to Business and Scredible a USA backed online tool that helps busy people create great online profiles and connect easier to the stories and conversations that matter to them.

In the USA, FaceBook (which celebrates its 10th birthday today) shared that 80% of its users are over 55. If you connect on FaceBook you will see it is not just about sharing photo’s and updates, there are vast number of people discussing things that matter to them. They gain research, find suppliers, find business partners, become inspired, laugh, share joys and share sadness’s.

By doing this they are supporting each other, not seeking to transact. We share the belief and are driven by creating a more open and more connected world.

Yet, few companies have really embraced this mindset. Few really understand the shift that the technology is having on the way businesses grow and can innovate and solve problems.

A survey of 750 managers by the CMI found that two-thirds admitted they were ineffective at using social media, over half could not make use of large amounts of data. The open, random and supportive culture of this new world challenges many people.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) said its research revealed “significant” skills gaps, ranging from using technology to networking.

So todays speech is about your Digital Future as  company and individual, not about the technology.

36% of small businesses and 55% of charities still do not have a functional website.  This is a shocking statistic in 2014 however, I empathize with it. I have a number of companies and we all find it hard to invest and keep up with the website content and social media. I have my own site and I worry about it daily.

I am going to come back to a solution to this later. When I discuss what Digital Youth Academy are doing and their new Youth Web Builder program with Nominet Trust and O2

Lets look at the business population statistics

  •  There are 4.9m private companies in the UK,
  • 95% are under 9 Employees
  • Roughly 300,000 are started a year, (even with about 3,500 insolvencies a year that is a significant growth))

The growth of start-ups is astonishing. It has never been easier to start a company.

Ensuring it thrives and grows is the issue.

  •  There are 1.5m sole trading women of the 3.3m sole traders.

The competition for SEO and to be heard, or as Scredible put it, ‘elevate your conversation)  is mounting and the individuals have a massive advantage. I see tremendous engagement, innovation and collaboration in the new entrepreneurs.

They know to survive they must

  1. Be online
  2. Be connected globally
  3. Support others and their problems
  4. Be liked , grow their influence and social capital
  5. Have a unique voice and say things that lead conversation
  6. Collaborate on big issues to solve big problems – change makers

Our mind-set for our business and how we share and talk about it is becoming a standard need for all companies.

We hear the word ‘Intention’ and Purpose all the time to drive engagement and attempt to stop people from just selling

Learning to give our knowledge away and sell our expertise is helping many companies grow, they gain trust, engage better and see the bigger picture and innovate – this ensures they are the ‘OUTLIERS’ of their industry rather than be than be the company that is destroyed by an outlier.

It is critical that we all know what our businesses can achieve for others, ask any business owner why they started their company and a passionate set of words will abound, thy know why, yet the day to day tasks and management takes over and their passionate voice shifts into ‘To do’ list and tasks and their staff mimic this, the business looses its direction and people turn up to get a salary rather than solve problems, finding their voice online involved re-finding it and making sure it is not based on tasks and selling.

I am focused on the SKILL agenda around Digital.

So Why have I gone this softer skills route on a subject of technology rather than fill your head with new tech?

……because too much emphasis is being placed on HOW and not enough on WHO and WHY. The majority of spend on Digital is on training technical skills inside a company and not on the context and voice the company wants to have online.

I can see so many business owners saying ‘we have gone social’ and what they mean is they have a person tweeting and broadcasting, not engaging and really networking.

I liken this to the Customer Service world in the 80’s when two blue-rinsed hair ladies answered calls from angry customers, they were the Customer Service department and their job was to LOVE the customers, while everyone else in the organisation ‘hated’ the customer. Customer Service was not taken seriously and soon the negative culture of staff affected the whole atmosphere of a brand.

Eventually the CEO embedded a customer culture throughout, this is what has to happened with ‘social’ and digital.

So, this is what I care about

  1. Your future in a connected digital world
  2. Your staff and the average age- more later!
  3. Your ability to grow a global network
  4. Your ability to innovate
  5. Your place in your local community and how well you serve it

97% of Google searches are for local search of services

I see the future as the bringing together of

  • The online and the offline world
  • The local and the global
  • The importance of the High Street in a very different way that we see it today.

Over the past 16 years I have both online and offline, local and globally and this is what I have learned

Being a local, global company that has a powerful online presence and a fantastic local network that sources locally, employs locally and cares locally

  1. Online and offline are critical – Ecademy held 5000 local events a year across the world – Friend in Every City – people want to meet up and stay in touch online
  2. People sit in their ‘transactional worlds’ of what can they sell and miss the wider picture of the problems they are addressing and the stakeholders involved,
  3. If we all collaborated more on the bigger issues we would grow the economy.

 This is what a Connected world looks like

In this area of the country there are many issues

  •  Housing
  • Health
  • Education
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of Skills
  • Infrastructure – transport, roads, congestion

Each of these sit in Silo’s, tactically delivering their solutions and doing their best

There are many strategic meetings where the top stakeholders in each silo get together and discuss things and then they go back to their day to day and continue their tactical tasks

My focus is on Digital and this is how I see it

SME’s need to embed digital skills into their minds, business and delivery and marketing

We have over 1m unemployed youths, they are not all unemployable, many are graduates and highly educated and very motivated and critically BORN DIGITAL

My mission has been to help the non-digital sector embrace Digital and in 2011 I turned to our youths and found the solution. I took my mind up the tree of problems and sought to meet everyone involved in this issue

  1. Government
  2. Local Educators
  3. Councils
  4. Parents
  5. Associations
  6. Charities

I made a great finding……………………Apprenticeships

I went to my local FE College for the first time and asked if they could provide me with an Apprentice to do my Digital work, my admin, marketing and IT and was offered either a Business Admin or a Marketing Apprentice.  Thus was not what I wanted, I needed a 21st Century Apprentice

So, I created a new Apprenticeship and created a channel of partners that hold the funding from Government for the training,

We created Digital Youth Academy and built a powerful e-learing system so all our learners could work in the workplace and learn at the same time

I thought my job was done!

Then I discovered that FE Colleges find it hard to build a relationship with SME’s, how many of you have but lets think about this!

This is being seen as a weakness in the Colleges and the responsibility of the Colleges, they are adapting, they used to all work on the skills needed by sector, now some are realising the most important asset for them is the relationship with the SME and thir digital needs.

It is predicted that by 2017 there will be a lack of digital skills across Europe of 950,000 unfilled jobs.

Job vacancies in England have returned to pre-recession levels, but economic shifts into recovery will be impeded by a lack of recruits with appropriate skills, Government research suggests.

A study published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES ) warned that skills shortage vacancies are growing at twice the rate of jobs. It recorded 559,600 job vacancies in England between March and July 2013, up 45% from 2009.

But the amount of skills shortage vacancies created nearly doubled over the same period, increasing from 63,100 to 124,800.

More than 90,000 employers contributed to the Employer Skills Survey. Their evidence suggests skills shortage vacancies account for more than a fifth of all vacancies (22%).

Confederation of British Industry director for employment and skills Neil Carberry said the findings suggested skills gaps in science, technology, engineering and maths needed to be addressed urgently.

“We must expand access to high quality apprenticeships and other ‘learn while you earn’ schemes and ensure that these meet the needs of both businesses and employees,” he said.

“To equip young people with the knowledge they need, there must also be a sea change in the quality of careers advice in schools, so they are more aware of the opportunities and rewards of working in key sectors which face skills shortages.”

UKCES commissioner and managing director of the UK rail business design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins, Douglas McCormick, advised businesses to “start thinking about planning their talent pipeline now” and not wait “until they are unable to fulfil contracts because of a lack of skilled staff”.

He commented on results in the study that showed almost half of employers across the UK (48%) had recruited people with higher levels of skills and knowledge than required for the job.

“Under-using people’s skills like this risks a bored and demotivated workforce,” said  McCormick. “By providing high-quality and job-specific training, businesses can make sure they have the skilled workforce they need, as well as inspiring loyalty and keeping their staff motivated.”

Whose problem is it now?


It is a shared problem, a company can only be as good as its staff and a College can only survive and get funding if they service our employer workforce

Educators and YOU the business world,

YOU, need these skills and soon you will be fighting and competing for them. Currently you can get them at a low cost level,  soon they will be at a premium

So now who should be taking the responsibility of communicating with the very people in your towns and cities that will ensure you can recruit the skills you need.

The collaboration of stakeholders at a local level is critical for us to solve the economy. If you fully immerse yourself online you will build a local community and see the wider problems and the wider opportunities

The digital future is about YOU and your mind-set, the digital technology is forcing us to be more open and to seek partners who care about what you care about and solve things together

You need to know what you care about and then build the voice online to gather those stakeholders around you

Thank you

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