What will society look like for UK SMEs in 30 years?


Those working in the technology sector are often, perhaps unsurprisingly, presented with questions about the future and what our world will look like in 30 years time.

George Brasher, Managing Director, HP UK & Ireland says that for many SMEs, new technology is appealing, yet daunting – but there’s no escaping the role it will play in deciding how their futures look.

No one, including Brasher, can know for sure what is to come and of course that’s part of the excitement. What we do know is that a series of demographic, economic and environmental trends are already underway, all of which have an impact on SMEs today, and can help us to predict what is yet to come for businesses across the UK.

Economies and jobs are changing

People are rapidly relocating to urban centers, in turn driving economic growth and raising household incomes and spending on average. This applies to every major city globally as well as in the UK – in both developed and emerging markets – even to the extent that the economies of single cities are now surpassing those of entire countries.

It is therefore no surprise that nearly 60% of all SMEs are located in cities across the UK – with Aberdeen, Reading, Cambridge, London and Oxford having among the highest concentration.

In order to sustain this economic growth the UK needs to continually attract skilled labour. Globally, there will be a shortage of 85 million high-skilled workers by 2030, with some countries facing a stunning gap of more than 25%. The UK will share this global burden, and already faces a 40,000-strong shortfall in people with the necessary science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) skills required to meet the demands of the UK economy. Personally, I think we’ll witness three significant responses to this shortfall.

First, SMEs will undertake a dramatic retraining of their workforces – for which there is a clear appetite from employees – equipping them with the required skillsets for jobs that are yet to exist. HP’s own research has shown that this is particularly relevant for women – of whom 70 per cent are interested in roles in the tech industry and 45 per cent are open to technical roles.

Encouraging diversity and the opportunity for new skills is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense as well because a more diverse team helps fuel innovation and success.

Second, we’ll see automation help to bridge the gap as smart machines are able to collect data, learn from it and respond. It already exists in virtually every sector, from power generators and manufacturing robots to smart speakers and autonomous vehicles. Each one of these machines relies on the same basic concept: sensors and data.

Moreover, we’re seeing this technology deployed at the city level, for example in Cambridge where real-world data is digested and turned into simulations that help deliver optimal services to citizens and move its smart city strategy forward.

Third, as consumers become less focused on the transactional ownership of products and desire more as-a-service models all industries will begin to shift towards service-led consumption models for their customers.

SMEs in particular can look to use this in order to foster longer-term relationships with their customers by creating lifetime value for them, as well as offering predictable annuity streams.

Energy needs to be sustainable

It’s clear that with incomes and job numbers rising, our energy usage is also going to dramatically increase. If that energy comes from conventional sources such as oil and gas, emissions will also increase – an outcome we should consider unacceptable. David Attenborough’s alarming documentary which aired last month made the message clear: we’re running out of time, but there’s still hope. Businesses from SMEs to large multinationals, and their consumers, all have a role to play.

What I mean by that is simple: We all have to move in the same direction by basing our models upon renewable sources which are more efficient, circular and low-carbon. At HP for example, we’ve recycled over 271,400 tonnes of hardware and supplies since 2016, and are aiming for 1.2 million tonnes by 2025.

It makes perfect business sense too. We have seen a 38% increase in deals where sustainability was a requirement – and we expect that to grow as consumers place even higher expectations on businesses of all sizes. Companies and customers want to buy goods and services from entities that they trust to do the right thing for the environment, for their employees, and create a positive impact in their communities.

Creating the future today

Technology has certainly shaped the world from 1989 to 2019 and there is no doubt that this direction of travel will continue from 2019 to 2049. At such an exciting time, it is imperative that the next thirty years are guided by the overarching principle of acting sustainably for the benefit of everyone. With so much at stake, all of us need to think about this as an opportunity to build a better future for our planet, people and communities.