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Ideas & Observations

Guest contributor: Mike Matthews

As companies continue to look for ways to accelerate growth plans, Mike Matthews, former managing director at Eaglescliffe-based car parts maker Nifco UK, and the firm’s ex-European boss, says it is imperative businesses switch to digital operations, to help their marketplace presence and put the region at the forefront of the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

After a 38-year career in manufacturing, with the latter five alongside organisations such as the North East England Chamber of Commerce and North East Automotive Alliance, I’m now working as a business consultant, which is providing a great platform to see and compare organisations globally.

And one thing it is really emphasising to me, through each passing week, is the importance of digitalisation.

If not the most powerful, digital is certainly one of the most powerful tools for the North East to really compete on a national and global basis, and really level up business and our environment, both socially and economically.

Three years ago, I was contracted with Hitachi Vantara, one of the world’s leading providers of digital solutions for business.

It was a bit of a strange move for a guy who isn’t known for his IT and technology prowess, other than hitting the on and off buttons, and shouting at equipment when it doesn’t work.

It has, however, been a tremendous experience and has provided a real window to see how household names are rushing to digitalise their businesses in some, if not all, aspects.

Digitalisation, in my experience, brings about a vibe like the one I recall from those old Westerns about a ‘gold rush’.

Latest figures show the top ten companies globally are pretty much digital businesses, with the tenth, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, now divesting in the traditional banking sector and moving significantly into digital banking.

Furthermore, digital has propelled Walmart’s fortunes to dizzier heights, with a 79 per cent increase in e-commerce sales in 2020, as well as those of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google.

But digital isn’t the sole preserve of the perceived elite. Small restaurants, hotels, bakeries, manufacturers, taxi firms, transport businesses and printing firms – to name a few – are prospering by boosting capacity utilisation of their services through digital platforms and tools.

And this has knock-on effects, with operators benefiting from building a client database that records spending habits, develops sales forecasts and enables focused marketing and financial budgets – all of which aren’t practicable with Microsoft Excel.

Throw artificial intelligence into the mix, and you have a digital tool that takes guess work out of ordering, stock levels, customer patterns and financial modelling.

The Government has updated its UK Digital Strategy paper, which highlights how “critical building blocks of the digital economy, from superfast internet access to cybersecurity capabilities, are already in place or being built…with universities lead(ing) the world in fundamental and applied science”.

And it’s crucial businesses harness that.

My advice for all companies, large or small, is that if they don’t have a business plan, with a strong digital pillar that reflects all aspects of their operations, to give it thought sooner rather than later.

Because digital will take them to the next level.