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June 5, 2017

The IT department’s guide to Brexit

Is there any point in planning for Brexit at all? Perhaps it would be better to follow the advice on the front of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic.

By James Nunns

“I love deadlines,” Douglas Adams once said. “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” 

Not everybody is good with deadlines. For some, the threat of D-Day looming over them is a spur to action. For others, it’s merely another excuse for inertia.  

Undoubtedly, the biggest deadline facing UK businesses is this country’s impending, inevitable exit from the European Union, and it’s one that is fast approaching. There now remains only 500 days (or thereabouts) for organisations to prepare for Brexit – so which approach are businesses taking to this most momentous of dates?  

Darren Hardman, UK MD, Avanade

When it comes to their Brexit preparations, it turns out that UK enterprises are evenly divided into two camps – at least when it comes to their IT. Avanade conducted research that asked senior IT leaders at UK organisations about their plans for Brexit. The poll found that almost exactly half (49 per cent) say they have no IT strategy in place to prepare for leaving the EU.

“So what?” you might shrug. However it pans out, Brexit will be a complicated, unpredictable and drawn out process – impossible for any business to prepare for in any meaningful way. Besides, IT is only one part of an organisation: why should Brexit be an issue for technologists any more than it should be for, say, sales? 

To take the latter point first, Brexit is very much a technology issue; in fact, it has more to do with IT than with any department. Quite simply, technology is integral to every single line of business from marketing to HR. While it shouldn’t be the sum of an organisation’s Brexit planning, IT is so essential to business operations, and has such a potentially transformational effect, that it cannot be neglected when devising a post-Brexit strategy. 

But is there any point in planning for Brexit at all? Perhaps it would be better to follow the advice on the front of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic. 

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That certainly seems to be the view of most UK organisations. Our research found that Brexit is a relatively low priority for businesses – in fourth place among other strategic IT priorities such as cloud, security, and data analytics. It’s little surprise, then, that two in five organisations have either slowed down their IT plans, or put them on ice.

Yet there’s a disconnect here. More than two thirds (68 per cent) of senior IT people in our research said that Brexit offers an opportunity to gain competitive advantage – an opportunity to make their IT more agile; the chance to react more quickly and more effectively than their competitors. 

Not only is this a unique business opportunity, but organisations need a plan in any case to cope with the likely (or certain) impact of Brexit. We can be sure that, whatever the final deal that emerges from negotiations, there will be huge changes to trade and tariffs, access to skills and staff, changes to exchange rates, and questions over data location. 

Questions such as these are not solely of academic interest: they will have a direct effect on organisations’ competitiveness and profitability. What’s more, they are questions that are directly addressed by digital transformation initiatives.

After all, digital transformation is a concept designed to prepare businesses for disruptive, protean times by giving organisations the ability to be dynamic themselves. And what could be more disruptive than Brexit itself?

Now is not the time to give way to organisational inertia – nor is it the time to panic. While the 500 day deadline is fast approaching, that is still plenty of time to initiate digital transformation projects that will help to prepare any business for Brexit. What’s needed is an understanding of where to focus one’s initiatives – and the will to make it happen. 

The good news, as we have seen, is that there is widespread understanding of the competitive advantages to be gained from digital transformation. The key is to concentrate such projects on where they will bring most value. This, we suggest, should focus on four key areas.

First, by modernising their applications, infrastructure and even the workplace, IT leaders can deliver better performance, flexibility, and scalability, helping the organisation to bring new products or services to market quicker, or react faster to changing circumstances.

Secondly, they should explore every opportunity to wring more value from the cloud, making better use of the economics, speed and scale of public cloud platforms.

IT departments should also embrace managed services which enable lower costs, greater agility, and improved reliability. 

Finally, enterprises must conduct a strategic business review of the likely impact of Brexit across all business departments, and work closely with their IT department to decide which technologies, processes, or operational changes can best meet these challenges.

Now is not the time to panic; but nor is it the time for lazy complacency. Brexit will result in massive change for every UK business – it is up to us all to develop a response that leaves us fit to face this uncertain future.

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