Skip to main content

A tricky business - researching assisted digital needs for business users

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: about assisted digital, assisted digital in action, partnership working

GDS assisted digital lead Alan Rider talks about how departments recently came together to share their views and experience on meeting business users’ needs for assisted digital support.

Researching assisted digital (AD) support needs for business users of online government services can be a tricky business. Services are sometimes unsure of how best to find their business users who need assisted digital support and carry out research with them.  

There is nothing like putting our heads together on these sorts of challenges, so together with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), we hosted a half day workshop on 25th November 2015 with a range of government departments to pool our collective ideas and experience.

Getting started

To warm things up, we started with headline figures of businesses digital capacity. For example, did you know that *23% of Small and Medium sized Enterprises lack digital skills and *2% of them do not use the internet at all? Or that most businesses are small with *78% of all businesses in the UK consisting of just a single person? We also heard from departments about research work they have been carrying out with businesses and employers.

For me though, the best part of the workshop was the breakout sessions that followed. Attendees were asked to consider how many of their business users are likely to need support?, where they currently go for support?, how to find business users to research? and share their ideas for areas where we can help each other and join up?

Many heads are better than one (or two)

Collage of different breakout sessions

There was a palpable (and pretty noisy!) buzz in the room during these sessions, which resulted in some great findings. For example:

  • There are a wealth of business advisory and support groups out there - both voluntary, funded by government and charged for e.g;
    • Chambers of commerce/industry bodies
    • Local authorities
    • BIS agencies
    • Growth hubs and local enterprise partnerships
    • Banks/accountants
    • Regular industry events and roadshows
  • We know who businesses are - it’s a highly regulated sector - so it’s not hard to find business users, but they may not regard their support needs as being ‘assisted digital’ and many businesses tend to use intermediaries (accountants, agents, etc) if they are not digitally literate themselves.
  • Business forums and networks are a good source for finding business users who need support as they know the individuals well.
  • To carry out research, we need to go to where they are. Time is money, so most won’t have spare time to come to you.
  • Research techniques will differ from those for citizens. Cold calling can be effective, as can telephone surveys or even email (as email users may still lack the digital skills needed for online business transactions).
  • Research incentives also need to be different than those for citizens (eg offering free places on courses). Offering small cash incentives to businesses isn’t likely to work well.
  • There are common business user journeys touching on multiple government departments and services. We can share contacts and research and work together on combining research effort for these users.

It’s good to share

Everyone made full use of the opportunity to network and collect useful contacts to follow up with afterwards and there was a clear appetite for further workshops to be held on other assisted digital topics. All in all, everyone was in agreement that it was an afternoon well spent and was a really useful exercise. This was summed up best in a comment made at the end “it was just really good to know that others were thinking about these issues too and I am not alone”. 

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

We aim to share examples of good assisted digital for business users on this blog over the coming months, so keep an eye out for those.

Follow Alan on Twitter and don't forget to sign up for email alerts

* UK Business Digital Index 2015

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Huw Pritchard posted on

    Very interested in this Alan, and would be interested in keeping up with how all this develops. If 23% of SMEs lack digital skills (what exactly is the definition of this?) where does that leave the drive to digital? I'm guessing your answer would be to implement a range of strategies to encourage digital takeup, rather than continuing to provide alternative (and more expensive) ways of delivering services.

    Or would that be your response.

    Your recent event sounds fascinating. I'd be keen to see notes from it. In the meantime will follow this discussion with interest

    • Replies to Huw Pritchard>

      Comment by Alan Rider posted on

      Hi Huw. Glad you liked the blog. We aim to feature examples of good AD for businesses regularly in future. The research is from the Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index 2015 - we have added a link to the blog. You are correct that all services need to have plans in place to increase the take up of their online services. You can read more about that in the government service design manual.

  2. Comment by Huw Pritchard posted on

    I'm also interested in how you do assisted digital in languages other than English. From my point of view, I'm particularly interested in digital takeup in Welsh. In some parts of Wales, customers would naturally interact with face-to-face or phone services through the medium of Welsh.

    There are certainly perceptions that however wants to interact with government, it's going to be a bit complicated, and we know that some customers are put off using Welsh-language services because of a fear of jargon, or over-correct language. So if they're perhaps not 100% confident in either Welsh or English, there's a barrier.

    Same will apply to services in major urban centres across the UK where there are communities using different languages.

    • Replies to Huw Pritchard>

      Comment by Alan Rider posted on

      Hello again Huw. Language (including low literacy) is certainly a potential barrier for some users and services need to carry out research with their users and put in place appropriate support to meet those needs. Services also need to comply with any relevant legislation e.g. the Welsh Language Act and follow relevant government policy e.g. on the use of translation services. Hope that helps. Have a great Christmas!