There’s no reason to expect a global digital detox, but the pace of growth may decrease. In fact, there’s already a broad wave of self-examination in the companies themselves: the sector has expanded enormously, and its influence extends far beyond what its leaders must have expected. They are making products and services that everyone uses, that touch our lives every day. This carries with it a new set of obligations.
Conversations with executives in non-tech sectors indicate that the market expects an increasing desire for data protection, and greater scepticism toward sharing it with others. Personal data have become as valuable an asset as oil once was. The language of codes and cookies pigeonholes us, describing our behaviour, buying preferences and individual plans. And the echoes of this global rethink can also be heard here in Poland and around our region. Big Tech is facing the question of whether it’s really done enough to protect privacy, ensure cybersecurity and fight hate speech. This new perspective is being imposed by regulators, legislators and NGOs. And we’re caught in between, with our smartphones in our hands the entire time.
But in looking for positives in this global vision of a slight slowdown in Big Tech’s growth, it’s worth returning for a moment to the centre of our own companies. This year will offer a good opportunity for other organisations to narrow the gap with the tech leaders, or at least to deepen their knowledge of the digital tools they offer. Should they broaden their (and others’) skills, or not? There can be no hesitation: this is quite simply a critical need for business today.
One of the greatest challenges for companies around the globe is the skills gap resulting from the mismatch between the abilities workers have today and our increasingly digital world. In Central and Eastern Europe, the share of CEOs who see access to workers and key skills as the greatest threat to the growth of their companies reaches almost 90%.
And simultaneously, we Poles are significantly more optimistic about the opportunities created by new technologies. We trust them more than we do people. So I’m not surprised that as many as 63% of Polish workers who took part in a PwC survey believe that automation creates more opportunities than threats. What’s more, 67% see the influence of technology on their current job positively, though they realise it will be essential to gain new competences to keep their position on the market. As many as 89% expressed a willingness to learn and to reskill – significantly more than the global average. We can’t assume that hosts of tech specialists will suddenly appear; as leaders and company owners, we have to take care of our people’s training ourselves.
And here begins the eternal dilemma: How should we train them, and with what, since we don’t know how the economy will do this year? Well, we do know one thing: uncertainty about markets and macroeconomics is a constant in forecasts for recent years. The intensity of rather negative expectations for the global economy (particularly in the last two years) is surprising. Perhaps because this mythical slowdown is still in the same place – just a little ways over our Polish horizon. But it doesn’t matter where CEOs and company owners look, or what country and region they come from, their paths are full of uncertainty. And this feeling has a direct effect on growth.
According to our CEO Survey, the latest version of which will be announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, over the last two years the percentage of business leaders who believe GDP growth will slow has increased tenfold. For several years, in almost every region, CEOs have expressed this increased pessimism and lower confidence in the 12-month prospects for growth in their companies’ revenue. This raises a simple question: so what, since things are going great for us locally? Well, perhaps we’ll manage in the short term, but already today, shouldn’t we at least start fulfilling our aspirations with professional digital education and business preparedness? That will make it easier for us to cushion the blow of negative economic sentiment from Western Europe.
Looking at Poland’s fiscal condition, the government apparently believes that because in the past we managed to maintain a decent tempo of GDP growth and increase tax collection, this will certainly be true in 2020 as well. But economists seem to agree that growth is weakening and the quick wins for increasing the tax take are being used up. The same is true inside companies: we’re harvesting the last of the low-hanging fruit. Let’s squeeze all we can out of these last moments.
As an example, I would point to the latest data from a PwC report for the Development Ministry. Only 4% of Polish entrepreneurs, compared with 7% in the EU as a whole, use the Internet to sell their products abroad. That’s hard to believe, right? But in online sales, the removal of barriers (mainly administrative) identified by business as hindering the growth of e-exports could over the long term increase the number of Polish digital exporters to 16%, pushing Polish e-exports up fourfold to about PLN 110 billion. These millions or billions are worth fighting for, because the time of quick wins is simply coming to an end. For companies who are already past that stage, 2020 may be a time of laboriously implementing solutions for back office transformation (e.g. process automation and digitalisation), efficiency and cost control or business stabilisation by tightening up risk management, cybersecurity and protections against unfavourable tax law interpretations.
The last trend for 2020 that I’d like to present to you may be recognised as relatively unrelated to business, or actually dispensable in the traditional understanding of the place and role of companies. But I can’t shake the impression, based on numerous convincing pieces of research, that for us here on the Vistula, this year will be one of greater interest in the real effect of environmental factors.
Why do I believe that? First, because of research we conducted on 2,500 employees of the companies working with us on the second edition of the Business vs Smog programme. That research indicates that as many as 68% of workers are considering or have considered changing their jobs because of poor air quality in the city where they work. So smog is becoming an increasing challenge for employers too, which is why the number of companies in the second edition of the programme doubled from the first.
And secondly, I believe this because organisations all over the world have started to recognise even more clearly the potential negatives arising from climate change. After all, Poland isn’t a green oasis, but in fact the opposite: a black stain of smog in Europe. And thirdly, because in comparison to the previous decade, the CEOs and company owners I’m speaking with significantly more often see positive effects of initiatives related to climate change. A pro-ecological view of business realities gives the opportunity for a reputational advantage, but also for new products and services. Our new, greener world is certainly a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity, both for business and for the societies in which we operate.
Head of Communications, Poland, PwC Poland
Tel: +48 601 289 381