Research overview

Digital revolution survey

As part of this report, Atkins carried out a survey of key industry figures, gauging their reactions to the impact of the digital revolution on their businesses.

There was an overwhelmingly optimistic reaction to digitalisation, with 97% of respondents saying that they thought it was inherently a positive development for their industry.

Most respondents thought they were reasonably well prepared for digitalisation, with 63% saying their organisation had only a small skills gap in this area, and 13% saying the gap was extremely small. Just 16% said the skills gap was large or extremely large, although a further 6% were unsure.

However, among those with concerns was Charles Ndungu of Triad Architects, who said that one of the biggest challenges was ensuring that employees had the necessary skills to effectively use new technologies and software. “A lot of new technologies and software are coming up and staff skills have to keep up with these, so we have to invest a lot in training,” Ndungu said.

This is compounded by a wide concern about the pace of change and the dangers of keeping up or betting on the wrong type of technology. Paul Hide of TechUK said that his organisation’s biggest worry was making the right decisions, on the right digital technologies. He said, “There is a huge range of choices, so you always have to make a calculated risk in the timing of when you transform and what you transform to. There is a risk that you transform at the wrong time, too early or too late, or you go down the wrong route.”

Skanska’s Linda Colman wondered whether “the industry as a whole understands the value and the benefit of the digital agenda, and whether they all receive the level of investment that they need to make, given the potential impact of the technology.”

  • My biggest concern is the risk of people becoming more disconnected from the environment around them. If everything is virtualised there is a loss of real world experience and people become more isolated from the physical world.


One respondent said that their sector was plagued by risk aversion: “Customers are still holding on to legacy mindsets. Even if we show them a hugely compelling business case, there are still historic concerns about the risks of adopting those digital models.”

Another of those surveyed confirmed this reluctance to embrace new technologies, saying: “Anything that has innovation, we really don’t get involved in, so we are very much adopting mainstream technologies rather than trying cutting edge ones. The challenge is that we feel our customers are changing and demanding more and more innovation or newer products.”

Despite these fears, most organisations believe they are making progress, with 80% of respondents saying their digital capabilities had improved in the past year.

Yet the digital landscape is changing so rapidly that it is hard for businesses to keep up:

“In my world, the major challenge is the speed with which digital technologies are transforming and improving on their own,” said one respondent to the survey.

While virtually all those questioned (97%) said funding would be available for digital investments, 60% thought it would take over two years for their organisations to become digitally enabled. That is a problem, when, as Colman says, “There are so many systems and software packages out there. Understanding what the right thing is for us when you have got no commonality and no one go-to place is a real challenge.

“There are a lot of start-up companies developing really clever things, all of which will help. So, the biggest challenge is fighting your way through that massive technology development and deciding where you are going to invest your money and what you are going to adopt, and understanding how it will really work in practice.”

  • I genuinely believe we are on the cusp of a massive transformation and I’m not sure if we are ready for it, but it’s coming and it will be a reality everyone needs to prepare for.

    Pete Mellish

However, said one respondent, there are real fears that “the rapid pace of change in some of these markets means there is a chance you place a bet on the wrong technology or the wrong digital process. Hence, we require people to come and help guide us to the right and appropriate answer.”

TechUK’s Hide adds, “The process of upgrading and changing technologies can be both complex and disruptive, and therefore more expensive, so we find changing to a new system to be very challenging.”

When asked which technologies would be the most disruptive, 29% of survey respondents pointed to big data and analytics, 25% highlighted artificial intelligence, and 13% said the Internet of Things.

“A lot of industries, including ours, will be heavily disrupted and in the end, it will all come down to productivity and costs,” said one construction and infrastructure firm. “Automation will provide the next business case with new technologies in the future. That will potentially put a lot of people out of work very quickly and that is not what we are looking to do.”

But they added, “The biggest opportunity is automation that makes everything safe, so we don’t have to put people in hazardous environments underground, at height and in confined spaces.”

Anecdotally, the biggest risk raised by the shift to digital ways of working lies in the resilience and security of systems. Many survey respondents expressed concerns about the need to balance the personal security of customers’ data against the value that the data creates. “Security is the biggest concern. Because everyone is talking about openness, interconnectedness and so many platforms and mediums,” one company said, “the biggest concern will be to see how secure we are, as one loophole can bring the entire system down. No matter how secure you are, people will find ways to crack your system.”

There are also fears about people being left behind by the digital revolution. “My biggest concern is the risk of people becoming more disconnected from the environment around them,” explained one of those surveyed. “If everything is virtualised, there is a loss of real world experience and people become more isolated from the physical world.”

However, one respondent highlighted how high the stakes are in the digital transformation: “I think simply the challenge is ‘change or die.’ If you are not prepared to investigate, exploit and deploy the digital capabilities in your business, you will lose business. You will lose customers, you will lose market share and you will lose economic prosperity. Because the customers have that choice, the capabilities are available and if you don’t offer them, your competitor will.”

What technologies are going to be the most disruptive?