CBI and Microsoft call for digital skills boost to help UK

The UK must seize the opportunity to become a leader in the use of technology to drive better business outcomes and create inclusive workplaces that support employees’ mental wellbeing, by accelerating investments in digital skills. That’s according to the CBI/Microsoft Tech Tracker 2020.

Amid the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, the report celebrates companies’ efforts to rapidly accelerate technology adoption. Addressing digital skills gaps is key to building on this momentum and enhancing competitiveness, enabling organisations to harness the value of their data.

Firms innovated at pace to deal with the immediate challenges presented by COVID-19, with technology investments largely focused on a need to improve efficiencies and competitiveness. Video conferencing solutions (91%) and cloud computing (79%) tools that allowed for greater agility and productivity were the most common technologies respondents had applied to their operations.

However, while organisations have increased their investment in technology, more than half (56%) of respondents stated that they lack the right skills to extract value from their data. A third (33%) of respondents went further and said that they are unable to make full use of their data to achieve critical goals.

While organisations have struggled to use data to drive strategic decision-making, they have been able to use it to support employees through this unprecedented time. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of firms said they are making good or full use of their data on employee satisfaction and engagement to support employee welfare.

people wearing face masks walk out of an office building

Firms innovated at pace to deal with the immediate challenges presented by COVID-19

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Businesses of all sizes have been innovating at lightning pace, supported by the adoption of technology – from the cutting-edge right down to the basics. Even in times of disruption, companies can invest in technology for the health of their operations as well as the welfare of their employees.

“Now more than ever these two factors are inexorably linked. Finding a balance that encourages employees to develop their skills, helps them maintain good mental health and ultimately drive business performance holds the key to building back better.”

In order to accelerate the UK’s economic recovery, the CBI and Microsoft are calling for the UK government and businesses to adopt the following recommendations:


  • HM Treasury should deliver a time-limited productivity voucher scheme to give small and medium-sized firms the incentive to invest in productivity-enhancing technologies
  • Government should establish Accelerate UK, a new council within UK Research & Innovation, to bring strategy, scale and visibility to Government support for innovation adoption. It would encompass strategy and support for adoption of tried and tested innovation as well as emerging technologies


  • Businesses should ensure teams are comprised of a diverse mix of people both for development and use of technology to boost company performance and prevent the entrenchment of existing societal inequalities
  • Firms should provide training opportunities to help employees become more proficient with readily available technologies and to meet identified skills gaps in the business.
two men and a woman sit at a desk during a meeting

Firms should provide training opportunities to help employees become more proficient with readily available technologies

Rich Ellis, Small, Medium and Corporate Business Lead, Microsoft UK, said: “In 2021, the UK’s competitiveness will be put to the test like never before. While this report highlights the role technology has played in helping navigate these turbulent times, it has also unearthed new challenges.

“Although organisations have access to more data than ever before, many lack the skills to extract true value from it. This must change if the UK is to thrive in a post-COVID, post-Brexit world. Microsoft is committed to working with the CBI, organisations of all sizes and the Government to up-skill the UK’s workforce in a fair and inclusive manner that creates broad opportunity for everyone.

“Without question, these challenges are daunting, but the path to rebuilding the economy is also an opportunity to build a better economy and future for all.”