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Things will only get better

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

Happy New Year!

Or is it? ‘Allegedly’ the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday, arrives in precisely one week’s time… but maybe there are positives we can all focus on.

Originally created by a UK travel firm as a means of selling holidays, the day has come to represent the time of the year when most people are at their lowest, after the Christmas excess, the return to work and a few weeks of trying to stick to some form of diet or exercise.

This year, Blue Monday is on Monday, 16 January, and even with the driving rain and painfully short days, this year there might appear to be other reasons to be less than excited about 2023.

We are in the middle of rail strikes that have rendered train travel pretty much impossible, inflation is still at eye-watering levels, interest rates are at their highest since 2008 and the cost of energy and food is hitting people hard in the pocket. Businesses are still suffering from a squeeze on labour, and are struggling to get the skilled people they need.

The glass is half full

But are things really as bad as they seem? Let me try and make next week easier for everyone.

We as a business are seeing a continued interest in demand, certainly not a decrease, and that’s been the case for the past couple of years, at least. And while we have heavily invested in the business to meet the needs of customers, I don’t think we are unique in seeing huge and exciting opportunities ahead.

Yes, interest rates present challenges for businesses that want to grow, but we are increasingly fielding calls from organisations interested in learning how security technology, including AI, IoT and automation, can unlock efficiencies and deliver cost savings as additional value for their investment. Faced with a demanding business climate, many companies are asking how they can do more with less – embracing digitisation to bring data into the heart of their business and learn from it, releasing ‘costly human capital’ to add value rather than processing data.

The future is brighter

Is my viewpoint rose-tinted? Do our experiences at Reliance High-Tech and Reliance Protect skew my beliefs? I don’t think so. Most economists now believe inflation will fall in 2023 as global supply chains are unblocked and energy prices return, at least in the short term, to historical norms. Already the price of petrol and diesel at the pumps is way down from its highs of last year.

The reopening of China following its ‘Zero Covid’ policy will provide a further boost to the global economy, and while the war in Ukraine continues to rage, the mitigations that European governments have put into place to boost reserves and develop new sources of energy, including renewables, are bearing fruit. As I write, prime minister Rishi Sunak is encouraging unions into Number 10 to discuss the strikes, and it’s not impossible to imagine some form of compromise being reached with the RMT and others.

Indeed, there is a great opportunity in 2023 for those that are able and willing to see the way the wind is blowing, and shift accordingly. Back in the 1990s, the firms that moved away from traditional technology and established new routes to market reaped the rewards: for every Kodak or Blockbuster which stayed stuck in a rut until its wheels came off, there was an Amazon or Netflix. More recently, Tesla, Spotify and Uber, amongst many others, have shown what can be achieved when new technology is harnessed to a revolutionary business idea.

Where’s there’s muck, there’s brass

To a certain degree, even the disruption of a global pandemic didn’t affect all these types of business. I have seen recent research that showed how the wealthiest businesspeople and individuals around the world increased their wealth during Covid, even while most of the planet was locked down. A record 493 people joined Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list in 2021, which means the world gained a new billionaire every 17 hours. Segmenting for geographic location, age, industry and other criteria, one thing is clear: the majority were either in tech or in traditional industries that were using technology to turn the usual way of doing business on its head, and a good chunk of them were in the 25-35 age group, suggesting that youth over experience is a success factor.

This tells me that, even in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic which knocked over two trillion USD from global GDP in just one year, there is always an opportunity – but you might have to find a new angle and think differently (And I’m not talking about PPE equipment!)

As this recent Economist article shows, the business winners over the last few years were not only those with their roots in tech, or those that leveraged tech, but also firms in traditional areas who grew agile and more innovative.

So, as Blue Monday looms, take heart: I believe we are coming out of the darkest of the darkest times, and we are already seeing the shape of economic recovery. Things will look remarkably different later this year, and as this Financial Times writer argues, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic as we start 2023.

Remember that Blue Monday was a marketing ruse created to sell holidays. The ‘blue’ in the name could easily refer to clear blue skies above warm tropical waters. Let’s hope so!