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Too much silence in the Brexit debate

Business in general has been fairly quiet about Brexit and the channel has been no exception but that might not be the best strategy

When you consider how much the subject of Brexit has dominated and paralysed the political process since 23 June 2016, it’s remarkable how reticent business has been on the subject. True, the simple fact that it hasn’t happened yet may have contributed to the reluctance of companies to get involved in the wider Brexit discussion until a clearer picture emerges of what they will have to contend with.

There have been a few that dared to put their head above the parapet, such as Airbus and BMW, only to be assailed with opprobrium and abuse from the pro-Brexit camp. The invective directed against them may well deter others from following suit but as the deadline for Brexit looms ever closer, there are bound to be more expressions of concern and alarm from business leaders.

At the moment, however, reticence is still very much in evidence among IT businesses. Companies that are usually ready with a quote on all manner of subjects are frequently struck dumb when asked for a view on the UK’s exit from the EU. Among those that are prepared to proffer a opinion, views can vary dramatically. Paul Timms, managing director at MCSA, describes the impact of Brexit as “minimal so far” which he believes may also be down to the fact that most of the company’s customers are mid-market UK-owned businesses. “In the next 12 months I think customers and partners alike will look for stability and familiarity until the post-Brexit dust settles,” he adds.

Colin Sempill, managing director at SSE Enterprise Telecoms, says the company’s 100% activity in the UK means it has “a critical interest in supporting strong UK economic growth”. It has “remained fully committed to growing our business in the UK” while its rivals look to move their operations and staff around the globe. “Regardless of the Brexit uncertainties, SSE Group will continue to drive UK capital and investment expenditure,” he states.

Also on the positive side of the ledger is Janette Martin, managing director of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at Advanced, who remarks: “We initially thought that Brexit could affect business performance but we are seeing quite the opposite. Nobody knows what’s going to happen once we leave the EU, which is why our partners are telling us they will not get distracted by it – it’s certainly not stopping them from driving forward on their plans, nor us at Advanced.”

She claims that the subject of Brexit “has almost disappeared from UK channel conversations – other than to comment on the drama our politicians are making of it all!” At a recent UK channel event she attended, “Brexit never came up once, which is a real shift from business discussions this time last year”.

John Newton, CTO and founder of Alfresco, has a different view. He says the government is spending so much time on Brexit, “to the detriment of getting on with the job of running the country”. It’s not considering or signing off on new projects that are “an important source of revenue for many in the software business”.

He argues that clarity on Brexit will enable government departments “to focus on new initiatives and improve the business flow for public sector IT providers. It’s vital the current uncertainty is checked and that issues directly affecting the technology sector are clarified as soon as possible,” Newton stresses. “I’ve seen first-hand how this uncertainty is leading skilled IT professionals from overseas to reconsider their futures in the UK, and deterring talented would-be visitors from making the move to this country.”

John Pagliuca, SVP at SolarWinds MSP, says companies are looking for answers to many unresolved questions. For example, what will future development plans look like? Where should they expand their data centres after Brexit? What effect will the UK’s departure from the EU have on data protection regulations? He says that partners “should be studying their exit strategies and reviewing what parts of their business may be affected such as products/services, supply chains, contracts and their workforce”.

He highlights the skills shortage in the IT industry in the UK, suggesting companies “need to be prepared and review their recruitment retention process and training facilities. Some may raise wages or steer towards automating certain processes if Brexit widens the gap in the IT talent pool due to migration limitations”.

Timms believes that having a diverse customer base is a sensible strategy, adding there has been “a rush of VARs” trying to become service providers, “some more successfully than others”. He adds that “it will be important to have cash reserves and clear focus – big investment in new things will be for the big and cash rich. This will favour the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Google who will not face big competition to their cloud offerings, “and it may take some time before customers come back to a hybrid or physical element of their IT”.

Nevertheless, “there is no reason in the new world of Software-as-a Service and creative hybrid platforms for the UK market to not really shake things up”.

Martin at Advanced observes that the shadow of Brexit seems to be prompting customers to invest in cloud solutions because “if Brexit changes come into play, they know they will have the latest version of software and will feel confident they’ll be covered with any legislative changes”. As for partners, she remarks that in the absence of “clarity on how or what is going to be in place, channel partners are choosing to focus on building and driving their business without distraction”.

If the past two years has taught us anything, it’s that no one seems to have much of an idea of what the UK will look like after Brexit and what its trading relationship with the EU will be. One thing we do know is that however quiet business may have been about Brexit, the politicians have been incredibly vocal on the matter. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson even managed to combine the two when he was asked about the concern business leaders had about Brexit and tersely replied: “F**k business.”

The fear is that the continuing silence of many companies over Brexit and its potential effects on the UK may well achieve that outcome.

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