Digital Economy Business Survey 2021: findings

Summary of findings from the Digital Economy Business Survey (DEBS) 2021. This publication includes the high level DEBS report, accompanying data tables and the Digital Economy Maturity Index 2021.

Adoption of Key Technologies

Digital technologies are widely recognised as enablers of productivity and drivers of innovation and international trade. They underpin business growth across every sector of the economy and can enhance productivity, allowing for time savings and resources to be freed up and used elsewhere.

This section outlines businesses’ adoption of some of the most common digital technologies, including mobile internet, cloud computing, social networking and data analytics. It also details the benefits businesses experience from using digital technology, and cites the most common reasons why some businesses do not make use of digital technologies.

Figure 2: Adoption of key digital technologies (%)
A bar chart is shown listing the types of digital technologies businesses in Scotland have adopted over the three waves of the survey (2014, 2017 and 2021). 83% used mobile technologies in 2021 compared to 73% in 2017 and 64% in 2014. 76% had a company website compared to 72% in 2017 and 73% in 2014. 74% used cloud computing compared to 38% in 2017 and 25% in 2014. 72% used any social media compared to 66% in 2017 and 53% in 2014. 57% used remote working tools like MS Teams, Zoom or Skype in 2021. 40% used data analytics compared to 40% in 2017 and 34% in 2014. 20% used any management software compared to 18% in 2017 and 13% in 2014. 9% used the internet of things in 2021.

Base: All businesses (2014 = 4,002; 2017 = 3,258; 2021 = 3,346)*

Multiple responses allowed

*Only businesses with an internet connection (min 2017 = 3,160; 2021 = 3,271) were asked whether they make use of cloud computing in 2017 and 2021.

Usage of key digital technologies (see Figure 2)

  • The most widely adopted digital technologies were making use of mobile technologies[1] (83 per cent) and having a company website (76 per cent).
  • Almost all technologies saw an increase in use between 2017 and 2021. The use of mobile technologies, cloud computing and social media has steadily increased from 2014 to 2021. The share of businesses using cloud computing services has almost doubled since the last survey from 38 per cent in 2017 to 74 per cent in 2021.
  • The only technology not to increase in use between 2017 and 2021 was the use of data analytics, which remained unchanged at 40 per cent of businesses. Of those businesses utilising data analytics, a third (34 per cent) used artificial intelligence.
  • 57 per cent of businesses surveyed in 2021 made use of remote working software, such as MS Teams, Zoom or Skype.[2]
  • Of those businesses using cloud computing services, 53 per cent used office software such as word processors or spreadsheets over a cloud computing service and 49 per cent used it to store files.
  • Only 2 per cent of businesses did not use of any of the listed technologies, compared to 6 per cent of businesses surveyed in 2017 and 10 per cent in 2014.
Figure 3: Top three most cited benefits of using key digital technologies (%)
Most Cited Benefits of Using Website and/or Social Media:
Generated exposure/raised company profile/increased awareness 73
Increased responsiveness/improved customer service 24
Improved sales, turnover and/or profits 14
Base 2,897
Most Cited Benefits of Using Mobile technologies:
Employees able to work remotely on the go 62
Increased continuity, flexibility, or resilience 23
Increased responsiveness to customers/improved customer service/customer engagement 23
Base 2,698
Most Cited Benefits of Using Cloud computing:
Can access data or service remotely/from anywhere 49
Improved security 18
Increased efficiency 15
Base 2,382
Most Cited Benefits of Using Data analytics:
More accurate and targeted marketing 28
Increased responsiveness/improved customer service 20
Drives business decisions/overall strategy 19
Base 1,410
Most Cited Benefits of Using Management software:
Increased efficiency 56
Collected vital data (e.g. customer details and order histories) 23
Increased responsiveness/improved customer service 23
Base 689

Benefits of using specific digital technologies (see Figure 3)

  • Overall, the perceived benefits of using specific digital technologies were broadly similar to those reported in the 2017 and 2014 surveys.
  • The most commonly cited benefit of having a website and using social media was that it generated exposure for the organisation (73 per cent stated this).
  • Of businesses using mobile technologies, 62 per cent stated employees being able to work remotely as a benefit, up from 53 per cent in 2017. 23 per cent stated that they benefited from increased business continuity/ flexibility/ resilience as a result of using mobile technologies.
  • 49 per cent of businesses using cloud computing stated that they benefited from this technology as it allows data to be accessed remotely, while 18 per cent stated that using cloud computing offered improved security (down from 23 per cent in 2017).
  • More accurate and targeted marketing was the most frequently cited benefit among data analytics users (28 per cent, down from 34 per cent in 2017).
  • 56 per cent of businesses using management software stated that they benefited from increased efficiency from using the software, up from 49 per cent of users in 2017 and 31 per cent in 2014.

Use of digital technologies to guide development of the business

  • Of those businesses using at least one of the digital technologies listed in Figure 3, 47 per cent made use of these to capture insights or feedback from customers – unchanged from 2017.
  • Other methods of using digital technologies to guide the development of the business included: Researching competitor products (40 per cent) and researching and gathering market data (35 per cent).
  • 22 per cent of businesses using any of the listed technologies had a specific plan or strategy for its use of digital technology in delivering the business, broadly in line with 2017 at 23 per cent.
Figure 4: How integral the use of specific digital technologies is to the business (%)
Importance Company Website Social Media Mobile Internet & Technologies Cloud Computing Data Analytics Management software Remote Working Tools The Internet of Things
Essential 54% 32% 59% 45% 20% 33% 55% 44%
Important 36% 49% 34% 38% 53% 46% 33% 41%
Not Important 10% 18% 6% 15% 24% 19% 11% 14%
Don’t Know * * * 2% 3% 2% 1% 1%
Base 2,496 2,468 2,699 2,383 1,410 689 1988 309

Base: All respondents using each technology (min = 309)

Importance of digital technology (see Figure 4)

  • Businesses using mobile internet and technologies (59 per cent), remote working tools (55 per cent) and the company website (54 per cent) were most likely to rate these technologies as essential to the way the business operates. In 2017, mobile internet and technologies, cloud computing and the company website were more likely to be seen as a central part of the business[3].
  • Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of businesses using data analytics reported that the technology was not important to the businesses – the greatest share of this response in relation to the other listed technologies.

Reasons for not using digital technologies

  • 2 per cent of businesses used none of the listed technologies. The most commonly cited reason for not using any of the listed technologies was that the technology in question was not relevant to the business (65 per cent).
  • Other reasons for not using any of the listed technologies included: prefer current business model e.g. face-to-face interaction (11 per cent), don’t understand IT (10 per cent), and lack of skills in the organisation (5 per cent).



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