Independent research commissioned by Dell and conducted by Vanson Bourne has found that the majority of British businesses feel ill-prepared for digital transformation – and fear that they may be made obsolete.

Dell executives also told Computerworld UK that there are major discrepancies in the mature markets versus emerging economies such as India, places which were unencumbered by legacy infrastructure that needed replacing.

Vanson Bourne surveyed 4,000 medium to large enterprises across 16 countries and 12 industries for the Dell 'Digital Transformation Index', and found that nearly half of all businesses – at 41 percent – are uncomfortable with the pace of change, and have noted "significant disruption" over the last three years. And there is a sizeable portion – 32 percent – which believe that their businesses could be made completely obsolete in the coming years.

Dell believes the recipients can be broken down into five different fairly self-explanatory categories: leaders, adopters, evaluators, followers and laggards. The bottom three set take up the lion's share of the results – with 41 percent lumped into the 'followers' set, with very few digital investments and some tentative planning for the future, 19 percent in the 'laggards' class, with no plan at all, and 24 percent in 'evaluators', who are very gradually embracing a more digital approach.

One aim of the study was to clarify just what digital means exactly – as with the emergence of the cloud, many companies found themselves boasting of being cloud-native or in similar buzz-y sounding terms, but didn't truly understand what that meant.

Similarly with digital transformation, it's a term that is cloaked in different interpretations: some organisations might think it means simply building an app or bringing in some new kit.

Dell's director for cloud at Dell EMC UK, Rob Lamb, suggested digital can be summed up generally as software-heavy back-office infrastructure, using cloud for burst capacity, scalability, and crucially, an understanding of agile and devops to help businesses release quickly.

But for those that aren't doing all they can in the digital space, well, the effects are plain to see on the high street.

"A third are worried that they're going to be made obsolete," Lamb said. "Look at what's happened on the UK high street – BHS is gone, people are shopping in different ways. Austin Reed is gone, they weren't keeping up with any form of different buying behaviours. Just this week Argos has gone large to try and compete with Amazon to deliver same day. So you're seeing this happening pretty much across the board.

"In terms of where the respondents felt the pressure coming from, it's a combination of those digital startups: companies with no inventory or infrastructure," he continued.

"At the same time they are seeing a large portion of their traditional competitors doing it differently. So you've got two threats, the new disruptors in your sector, and you've got your competition leveraging digital technologies and new go-to markets."

And according to Gaurav Chand, senior VP of the infrastructure solutions group at Dell, much of this can be explained by the differences in infrastructure in the UK and the USA compared to countries like India. 

He explained: "My thinking around it logically is, in markets where you have a lot of legacy applications, look what the education system has shown. There's a lot of courses around it, universities do a lot of lecturing – look at the average computer science degree in a mature market versus in a growing market.

"You're taught to work in legacy applications, so that's ingrained fundamentally as you grow up into that system, and once you get into that system you get to something you're very familiar with – a legacy Oracle database or a homegrown financial app system, that's just been on mainframes and those kinds of technologies."

He went on to say that in a lot of the emerging countries that gap just did not exist, or if it did, it was in such a small way that when the notion of things like native cloud came about, people were more ready to embrace that.

"It's my take, purely based on rationale, but I think that's where there's that fundamental difference," Chand said. "It's not like in a mature market people don't believe this transformation is coming or that it's not going to be disruptive – it's just more their ability to embrace that ambiguity in a go-forward market."