Barclays UK CEO on digital leadership: ‘Disrupt to deliver’

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Image of a finger working a smartphone to illustrate digital leadership

Digital leadership will be more important than ever post-Brexit, writes Barclays UK CEO Ashok Vaswani. It’s vital that top executives play their part if Britain is to avert a £63bn digital crisis

We are living in a world dominated by digital. While this undoubtedly opens up access to unprecedented levels of data, information and opportunity, it also poses a variety of risks.

One is the threat of cyber-attacks, against which individuals can protect themselves with sophisticated anti-virus software.

But what about the less tangible risk – that if we as business leaders fail to stay abreast of digital developments we may see a major impact on productivity, innovation and growth?

Despite the average British household owning 7.4 internet devices, a digital skills crisis is looming in the UK and it is estimated to be costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP.

The Barclays Digital Development Index – an international study of current levels of digital skills and confidence – reveals the true extent of the problem. The UK is mid-table overall, in fourth place, while for individuals’ digital skills we trail major economic rivals including India, China and the USA, dropping down to sixth.

Our index sounds an overdue alarm bell that if we fail to keep pace with technological change and prepare our employees and businesses accordingly, British businesses risk becoming less competitive, less productive and less able to thrive in the digital age.

The impact is already being felt, as the UK is trailing new emerging ‘digital tiger’ economies such as Estonia and South Korea. At a time when the UK is considering its role outside of the European Union, the focus must be on cementing the UK as a digital powerhouse in the global economy. The only way to do this is by shaking up our attitude to digital and investing now at the time when it matters most.

For business leaders, it can be easy to overlook the need to nurture a broad range of digital skills among employees. Your business may seem to be coping in the new age of digital, but in truth the majority of UK enterprises are unprepared for the opportunities and challenges the digital revolution brings.

Our index shows that while the UK scores highly for its digital skills strategy and education, in the workplace and vocational digital training we really fall behind, dropping down to seventh. What is clear is that policy is not enough on its own to tackle the digital skills crisis – businesses must lead the charge.

The solution is to show digital leadership and to keep learning – and to encourage everyone from the leadership team down to do likewise. Digital confidence is a continuum – it does not stop after a single training course or certificate. The skills we need in our lives and work are constantly evolving and we must be agile in our approach.

One way I have developed my digital leadership is by learning to code, and I’m calling on business leaders to take the lead in their organisations, to make the case for digital skills with their employees as well as in the communities where they operate. It’s about future-proofing our workforce, businesses and the UK economy –and I believe true digital leadership starts in the C-suite.

About author

Ashok Vaswani

Ashok Vaswani

Ashok Vaswani is the chief executive of Barclays UK.

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