This article was first published in The Scotsman
History is awash with tales of missed opportunities. Think of Blockbuster’s refusal to buy Netflix for $50 million. Today, Netflix is valued at just under $80 billion. Blockbuster failed to see the change that was around the corner and filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
Those charged with developing Scotland’s economy should take careful note of this lesson in how a refusal to do things differently can lead to missed chances.
The recent Enterprise and Skills Review allowed government policy-makers and existing business support organisations to take a step back and think about how they can support the transformation of Scotland’s economy. The output from the review so far has been full of good intentions, but the core message seems to be that business support organisations should simply do things better, rather than do things differently. That risks creating a “Blockbuster moment” and a missed opportunity to develop the economy in a way that responds to the demands of today’s world.
To date the review has taken an “inside out” approach which focuses on how current public sector business support providers are organised and work together. It has not looked at how, if they were starting from a blank slate, they could have designed the support landscape differently.
What we need to do now is build on this initial work but move to an “outside looking in” approach which starts with the customer and works back to determine the best way to support them to succeed.
The review highlights the need for customer-focused support. While creating a single access point and smoothing the customer journey is important, the support organisations should think carefully about how they generate value for the customer. The range of support products is helpful, however support organisations must think “client first” as opposed to “product first”.
There is also a clear need to identify the particular capabilities required to be facilitators of business growth rather than product providers.
There is clear intent to make effective use of digital technology. However, support organisations need to go beyond the recommendations of the review in three ways. Firstly, the digital solution should allow support organisations to connect and facilitate engagement between growing businesses and the wealth of private sector support available. Secondly, by using real-time data analytics to evaluate the impact of what they are doing, support organisations can understand where the system is strong and where there are gaps to be filled. Finally and most importantly, they need to change how they operate. Good account managers already make use of the connections they can provide to their extensive networks. Why not recognise the importance of that aspect of the role and call them ‘Community Builders’, with an explicit remit to develop wider support systems which are accessed through digital technology?
Scotland has high ambitions to improve productivity. If its business support organisations are to help achieve that they must think and do things differently. Perhaps it’s time to ditch the VHS player?
Stephen Carmichael and Mark Bell are public services experts at PA Consulting Group