Own The Future as a Digital Leader

‘Digital Leadership’ is one of the phrases we hear all the time from digital and internet service providers in Northern Ireland.

But what does it really mean? How does it look in practice? And what tangible business benefits can it bring to your operations?

We turned to locals, SHS Group, who worked with Digital DNA event partner Virgin Media Business, to find out what Digital Leadership looks like for their business, and the road they took to get there…

Recipe for a Digital Leader

SHS Group is a £400 million food and drink business, employing over 700 people and operating across nine different sites in the UK and Ireland.

The company owns a range of premium brands including WKD, Shloer, Bottlegreen, Merrydown Cider, Farmlea and Maguire & Paterson matches. Through sales and marketing divisions it also distributes a portfolio of well-known brands such as Jordans, Ryvita, Nivea, Finish and Mars Drinks.

And, if that wasn’t enough, they’re also the largest private label supplier of herbs and spices and wet condiments, and a major supplier of milk puddings in the UK.

Belfast might be home, but the business has an obvious need to keep information flowing to and from it and their eight other sites. In fact, it’s critical to the business.

So, when they needed help to overcome communication issues between multiple sites, they looked to Virgin Media Business for a consultative approach. It wasn’t just a case of what the business does today, but also how it should look in the future.

The result? A full digital platform comprising three distinct technologies.

The first – IPVPN – connects every site together. The second is Managed Internet Access, and the third is SIP, the latest in telephony software.

Together, they allow SHS Group to scale as it grows. It also future-proofs their digital capabilities so they can access – and make the most of – new technology as it arrives here.

All of this has a very real impact, not just for staff and customers, in terms of communication and connectivity, but in how SHS Group operates on a practical level.

Until recently, for example, Belfast staff had to travel – often expensively by air – to attend remote meetings. Now, with a new network in place, a video conferencing system has allowed the firm to significantly reduce corporate travel time and costs. And they’re not insignificant costs:

By recouping the costs of time and travel, SHS Group were able to pay for the new system within six months.

It’s connectivity that’s allowing the company to think differently about how they do business now, and how they’ll do business in future.

Who Owns The Future?

SHS Group’s story shows how local businesses in Northern Ireland are taking control of their futures, proactively driving change through technology.

It’s something to be applauded, because it’s not yet the norm. Virgin Media’s Digital Opportunity Report (2016) showed huge opportunities for digital growth across the UK. Yet a recent YouGov survey found that 28% of IT leaders felt that their organisations’ infrastructure still wasn’t ready to support digital transformation.

And the majority of UK businesses (a whopping 57%) still describe themselves as ‘non-digital’. 

Virgin Media’s insights show bottom line benefits for becoming more of a Digital Leader than a reluctant passenger. Digital Leaders are those firms that are prioritising investment across a range of digital capabilities. They’re the ones rewriting their own futures.

The Key Digital Capabilities

Virgin Media’s research highlighted six key capabilities worth investing in:


1.Technology infrastructure

We’re talking Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment that helps you access, store, process, share, and present information in digital form. That includes communications infrastructure, hardware and software.


2. Digital workforce

This is your company’s ability to attract and get the best out of staff with key digital skills, through attractive conditions and work environment. Key digital skills mean your company can make the most of digital technology and new market opportunities.


3. Digital information

Your company’s ability to source, access, process, consolidate and analyse digital information for commercial advantage. Factors for success include a clear strategy on how information is used, governance processes to maintain data quality, data security and privacy policies.


4. Digital strategy and leadership

The ability of your leadership team to understand how digital is changing their industry, to develop appropriate strategies and plans in response, and implement changes quickly and successfully.


5. Open and collaborative partnerships

This is all about collaborating with external partners through information sharing or more formal partnership arrangements: things like using crowdsourcing platforms or working with universities to encourage product innovation.


6. Digital customer engagement

Your use of digital channels to engage with their customers to improve customers’ digital experience, to gain greater insight into customer needs, and to use this to improve product or service quality.

Of course, there are plenty of challenges…

Unless you founded a company in the last five years, the likelihood is that your IT is a melting pot of systems from different general eras of computing.

Cost, risk and security are all perceived reasons that prevent companies from switching over to newer systems. However, there have been plenty of case studies in recent times that prove maintaining a status quo can present as many risks to cost and security as investing in change can.

In 2016 alone, for instance, almost half of all UK companies were hit by a cyber breach or attack, with an average cost to large businesses of £20,000.*

* SOURCE: Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017 


Virgin Media’s report had telling insights for Northern Ireland’s economy, with digital contributing only £285m to firms’ revenue growth at the time.

No Northern Irish survey respondents qualified as digital leaders, and yet most firms had experienced increased competition due to digital.

More than a third of firms were uncertain about the future landscape of their industries, which may explain why firms were less optimistic about their £1.1bn digital opportunity.

Some of the issues at play in NI were fundamental: ineffective hardware or software was a concern for 64% of firms, and attracting talented individuals was also a challenge for most firms.

So, investing in digital infrastructure could be the key to reducing costs and increasing productivity, just as it did for SHS Group. Because with 57% of UK businesses describing themselves as ‘non-digital’, the competitive advantage is there for the taking.


Want to learn more? Read the latest Virgin Media white paper on digital disruption ‘Unwrite Your Future’ booklet in full, right here.

To take the first step to digital transformation, visit Virgin Media Business.

Seamus McCorry is Head of Sales and PreSales Northern Ireland and can be contacted directly by email: seamus.mccorry@virginmedia.co.uk