Mark Temple

While many businesses in the Leeds City Region are leading the way in digital transformation, for others, the journey is rather less advanced - although the pandemic has seen many take their first steps into a digital world. Mark Temple, Local Digital Skills Partnership Manager, discusses how Digital Enterprise Top 100 businesses can inspire others into themselves becoming digital leaders.

Digital transformation is spoken about often - but it’s something that still isn’t commonplace, by any stretch of the imagination.

With 52% of SMEs in West Yorkshire still without the essential digital skills needed for the workplace, clearly there is a lot of work to be done to affect the kind of transformation that must take place to ensure businesses, the region and the wider UK can compete on a global scale.

But while the past 12 months have been some of the most economically challenging in living memory, the adoption of technology by many businesses and individuals - many by necessity rather than choice - could yet have a long-lasting positive effect.

“COVID-19 has been horrendous for so many, but if there could be one very small positive from such a scenario, it would be that digital transformation has accelerated massively,” says Mark Temple, Local Digital Skills Partnership Manager at West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

“It has been a unique moment in time. Businesses and individuals alike have turned to tech in ways they may not have done previously.

“Whether it has been using Zoom to keep in touch with your friends or parents because you can’t physically see each other, and also teaching them how to use it too, or taking aspects of your business online because you couldn’t do it in person, there has been positive progress in digital adoption.

“There have been so many ‘digital doors’ opened during the past year by so many people and now we need to continue to build on that traction - we don’t want to revert to type. By embracing digital skills, so many opportunities are available to all.”

And with the stories of each of the businesses named in the Digital Enterprise Top 100, the reminders of the opportunities that exist, and the success that can come if they’re embraced, are there for all to see.

From companies that have used technology to become more resilient, to those that have pivoted to redefine their entire operation or scaled in response to market potential through digital transformation, they have made change happen.

“These businesses are showcasing the art of what is possible,” says Mark, who was one of five judges of the Digital Enterprise Top 100.

“It’s the Carpe Diem mentality - seize the day, or get left behind. So many businesses have really grabbed the bull by the horns in their digital transformation and have made huge achievements, particularly in such a challenging 12 months."

Mark continues: “For some, it’s been the start of their journey, others are further on that journey, but every business on the list shows that if you think outside the box and embrace digital adoption to your advantage, you can stand out from the crowd, deliver a better service to your end user, and set your business up for the future.

“One of the best ways to get people to think ‘why should I change?’ is to see the difference that change makes to others. And by seeing the difference digital transformation can make, as it has with businesses in the Digital Enterprise Top 100, hopefully, others will be inspired and won’t be left behind.”

“Many SMEs fail due to not having a clear digital strategy before starting any transformational move, and that is both for their business but also for their employees,” Mark continues. “Without a clear strategy and a defined programme of change, and also a plan to support employees with training any transformation, it will be hugely difficult to embed, so start with the strategy and build from there.”

Having received “significantly” more entries than the submissions that made it into the Digital Enterprise Top 100, judges were faced with the tough task of selecting businesses.

“It’s very difficult to separate businesses with such great digital stories, and I think we could’ve had a Top 150 with the greatest of ease,” says Mark.

“There were some great submissions which didn’t make it onto the list, but they had achieved some very significant benefits in their own right.

“From my perspective, it was about the journey for the business. If they started at the bottom end of digital transformation but progressed at pace, then that’s a great showcase and inspiration to others.

“Any business in the Digital Enterprise Top 100 should be very proud. It’s a great achievement to be chosen and it is a very strong field.

“But for all businesses who are embracing digital transformation, whether they made the list or not, I’d say keep going. Keep learning, keep developing, keep things moving forward.

“The world is moving forward so quickly in terms of digital technology and those businesses progressing can’t afford to stagnate. I’d encourage any business, and particularly the ones in the Digital Enterprise Top 100, to keep pushing the boundaries.”

With a host of businesses leading the way, the digital transformation of West Yorkshire is underway and progressing at pace, but clearly there’s more work to do.

Leeds is now the fastest-growing tech sector outside of London, which is evidence in itself of the need for digital upskilling of its current and future workforce - and with around 3.8% of technology jobs in West Yorkshire accounting for over 8% of GVA, the importance of the sector cannot be underestimated.

By creating the Local Digital Skills Partnership in November last year, the seventh of its kind in the country, action is being taken - but Mark is under no illusions as to the scale of the task.

“We’re looking at it in terms of social inclusivity and economic impact,” says Mark, who has a background in leading digital transformation.

“We want to enable people to engage with today’s increasingly digital society, whether that’s sending emails from a laptop, applying for Universal Credit, applying for jobs online, making doctors’ appointments as surgeries are becoming increasingly digital - life skills like that. To enable people to access modern society would be a huge step in transformation for them.

“And from an economic point of view, digital skills underpin so many other aspects of what we do - economic recovery, employment, inclusivity, business and innovation. It’s so central to so much of what we do in society, but with 52% of SMEs without the essential skills for the workplace, the need to grow people’s skill levels is absolutely huge.

“There are some big areas we need to look at for the future too, such as growing the numbers of pupils studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school, increasing the number of girls in STEM, ensuring these young people have the tech capability and day-to-day skills to go into a job.

“But through the Digital Enterprise Top 100 and the fact we can showcase these businesses, so people can see for themselves what can be achieved - that’s a great place to promote the need for digital skills growth.”

This interview features as part of the Digital Enterprise Top 100 special report, which showcases the most digitally transformational, resilient and innovative businesses in the Leeds City Region. Read the full report here.

Alison Cowie
Article by Alison Cowie
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