Brexit is a massive distraction from the issues that really matter for business - Mark Casci

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Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty.

Time and time again the word is used to describe the world we live in and, in particular, the climate in which businesses are forced to operate.

EU and UK flags together

EU and UK flags together

For evidence of this take a look at the FTSE100 index from 10 years ago. Four in 10 of these businesses are no longer there.

The ongoing soap opera of Brexit and the war of ideologies it has entailed have unquestionably made for a challenging climate for companies large and small. More widely, the trade war between the United States and China have made for a volatile worldwide market.

The political machinations behind all of these occurrences means that they are seldom far from the headlines.

However, the most profound source of uncertainty does not lie in the feeble utterances of politicians, it lies in the staggeringly rapid pace of technological change we are currently seeing in the world.

CMS provides custom-designed and fully-automated laser process machines

CMS provides custom-designed and fully-automated laser process machines

Not a single business is immune to disruption from these changes.

A new report published today by the CBI and Oracle looks at the economic cost of failing to keep up with the pace.

It shows that, in an age when disruption is commonplace, that many larger businesses are struggling to digitally transform at pace.

Research shows that more adoption, coupled with better management practices, could add as much as £100bn to the UK economy. Over and above this it has the potential to cut income inequality by 5 per cent.

More than half of workers lack digital skills

More than half of workers lack digital skills

However, only 54 per cent of UK companies believe disruptive technologies play an important role in their organisation, much lower than in countries such as France, Germany, India and Russia.

As a nation our productivity is poor, having slowed significantly since the financial crash of 2008, with key sectors such as financial services and construction experiencing negative growth. At the same time, a productivity and prosperity gap is opening up between companies willing to invest in the latest technologies and those that are not.

The CBI report shows that larger companies – which account for 48 per cent of UK turnover and employ 40 per cent of its workforce – are especially struggling to digitally transform.

They face a range of issues including skills scarcity, complex legacy systems and a 25 per cent greater threat from cyber attacks compared to other companies.

By contrast, smaller start-up companies are more likely to adopt new technologies, while firms aged over 15 years are the least likely.

The CBI’s director of digital and innovation, Felicity Burch, sums up the situation in stark terms, saying: “Many will assume that, with the resources at their disposal it’s easy for large firms to adopt new technology. But a host of challenges, from ageing legacy systems, cyber security threats and agile new challenger firms can make successful innovation feel like hitting a moving target.

“For the UK’s big hitters to secure their position as world leaders over the next 10 years, senior business leaders must be prepared to challenge their established ways of operating and cultivate an environment that encourages employees to seek innovative solutions to company-wide issues or these companies risk extinction.”

Then of course there is the true elephant in the room; automation.

As many as 1.5 million jobs are already at immediate risk of being replaced by technology. These are not just roles in restaurants and supermarkets. These are skilled, professional jobs which, in time, will no longer be needed.

Action of how we deal with these disruptions and changes is an absolute imperative.

In 15 years’ time, whether we have pulled out of our EU membership with no deal in place, or remained a member state, we will look back on this time and wonder why we wasted so much time on the pointless debate over Brexit when there were far, far more pressing issues to attend to.

Throughout history, Britain has always been a world leader when it comes to change.

It would be tragic if this glorious tradition were to come to an end due to us having so spectacularly taken our eye off of the ball.