International Trade

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Brand Britain ‘open all hours’ for global trade

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This is the key finding of a new report commissioned by Vodafone UK, “Fluid Thinking – Working without boundaries.

The research explores how technology advances have changed the way businesses work and opened up new markets for British goods and services abroad. It includes reflections from business leaders including Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, and Luke Lang, the co-founder of crowd-funding site, Crowdcube.

In a survey of 300 senior managers in UK businesses, 68 per cent felt that it is now easier to trade internationally. This positive sentiment was particularly strong in retail (71 per cent) and in the travel, tourism and media segment (82 per cent).

Nearly two-thirds see international markets as very important for their companies’ growth. Some nine out of ten senior managers agree that even the smallest of businesses have the potential to expand beyond their home market thanks to advances in technology and travel. This is backed up by statistics from the British Chamber of Commerce that showed that the number of its SME members who were actively exporting grew from 32 per cent in 2012 to 39 per cent this year.

The fast-growing BRIC markets were among the top target regions for expansion listed by managers. Almost half plan to enter China, 36 per cent Russia, 34 per cent Brazil and 29 per cent India, along with geographically close markets in Germany (37 per cent) and France (35 per cent).

Competing internationally poses communications challenges and can create difficulties to organise and coordinate teams across borders, which a quarter of respondents admitted to. Even those not exporting often have international, if not global, supply chains and face some of the same challenges.

One potential answer to this is the growing use of Unified Communications systems, which enable any type of message (for example email, voice calls, SMS) to be delivered in any format, anywhere.

The report also surveyed 300 IT directors to reveal that 40 per cent of businesses have put in place such systems to improve their communications processes and, as a result, raise their competitiveness in the global marketplace. A shocking nine out of ten reported that this had been a beneficial move, allowing employees to work more effectively (50 per cent), be more productive (51 per cent) and responsive (45 per cent) and deliver better customer service (45 per cent).

The spread of new technologies has also enabled more flexible approaches to how the UK works. The report reveals that employees across all sectors are now more interested in their work-life balance and the ability to work flexibly. This is especially true in the public sector, where 59 per cent of those surveyed reported this trend, compared to 47 per cent in the private sector.

Supporting this is a management culture that now prioritises productivity and achievements over presence in the office, the report concludes.

Jonathan Kini, Enterprise Marketing Director at Vodafone UK, commented: “It is amazing how UK companies have converted the downturn into an opportunity. They have transformed the way they do business and, with that, raised their ability to respond to all the new opportunities that the global marketplace is throwing at them.”

“Technology – whether it’s cloud computing, big data, smartphones or the mobile Internet – has been a key driver and enabler in this process of reinvention. In particular, by removing many of the traditional entry barriers, it has given smaller players the ability to step on to the global stage.”

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