Business Technology

Digital skills barriers prevent rural companies from unlocking growth potential

3 min read

11 December 2017

Deputy editor

Rural companies want to harness digital technology for growth, but finding people with the correct skills is proving to be difficult.

At four in five rural companies, the vast majority feel as though digital technologies will support business growth.

In order of technological importance, rural companies are most focused on cloud computing at 62 per cent. This was followed by 5G at 54 per cent, Internet of Things at 47 per cent and artificial intelligence at 26 per cent.

In terms of cloud computing’s popularity, IceRobotics is one such company harnessing the cloud for its model, which supports dairy cow data collection in the farming space.

“Cloud computing provides compute power, storage, analytics, content delivery and other functionality to help farmers move faster, lower IT costs, and scale globally in minutes, so it’s key to driving innovation in business,” said Douglas Armstrong, CEO of IceRobotics.

“The growth potential cloud computing brings to the agricultural sector is significant, so the faster we get rural businesses adopting new technology, the more globally competitive rural Britain will be.”

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But despite the ambition businesses have to advance their services, the findings from Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College revealed 52 per cent of rural companies admit finding the necessary digital skills is a major barrier.

The Amazon-commissioned study found that 30 per cent of rural companies also find it tough outsourcing digital support. Elsewhere, 20 per cent said their current employees lack the necessary skills and it’s just as hard finding new recruits that possess them, while 14 per cent have a challenge trying to secure the appropriate training opportunities for staff.

“The research finds that rural businesses are typically family-run, home-based, owned by people aged over 55 years old and employing fewer than ten people – exactly the type of businesses that can gain from using digital technology to expand their productivity,” said Doug Gurr, UK country manager, Amazon.

“Every day, we see digital technology levelling the playing field between businesses operating in urban and rural parts of the country, whether that’s exporting locally produced goods or using cloud computing to scale their business.”

For 80 per cent of rural companies that export, ecommerce is essential for the business. The EU was the top market for exports at 84 per cent, with the US at 45 per cent.

Brian Wilson, chair of directors at independent think tank Rural England, added: “What is striking in this research is the ambition and willingness of rural businesses to embrace new technology that could increase the global competitiveness of our rural economy.

“Whilst connectivity remains a concern, it is clear that more needs to be done beyond this in terms of more proactive support and skills development. We need a clear roadmap for fulfilling that potential – something we hope the final report will identify when published.”