The International Festival for Business (IFB) 2014, which took place recently in Liverpool, was Britain’s biggest business showcase for more than 60 years.

Attracting more than 75,000 business delegates from 88 countries, it’s already been hailed a success, with plans for it to return to Liverpool again in two years’ time.

BT was proud to have supported IFB 2014 and in doing so, play a role in helping to take the UK to the world and bring the world to the UK. Everyone I met – politicians, business leaders and global mayors – wanted to make a difference, support business growth and create jobs.

Everything connected

We know that we live in a connected world, and one of the key themes that emerged from IFB 2014 was how IT enabled companies, countries or councils to serve their customers or citizens in a much better way and how technology is transforming how they operate. It drives efficiencies, it improves productivity, and it helps bring ideas to fruition quicker. We’re smarter, more connected and more collaborative working people and businesses than we ever have been before. With everything connected, distance no longer sets limits on what we can achieve.

So as the world becomes ever more global in its attitude, and as businesses look increasingly beyond their own shores and immediate markets for truly international expansion, what role does technology currently play in the minds of business leaders when they are considering expansion into other countries? What do they look for in their ‘wishlist’ of criteria and what barriers do they see being created by technology from a global expansion perspective?

In the run up to IFB 2014, these were some of the questions we wanted to find the answers to. We wanted to get a global view of the perceptions of business leaders who are looking at expansion into new markets, and the importance of the technological imperatives that support or challenge those expansion efforts. More specifically, we wanted to gauge the importance of a world-class digital infrastructure to these types of organisations.

The art of connecting global business”, a survey of 1,150 business leaders and decision makers from 13 regions around the world, uncovered some very interesting perceptions and thoughts from the global business fraternity, especially around the critical role that technology now plays in strongly affecting any business, anywhere in the world, when it comes to considering international expansion.

Chinese companies are most ambitious

On a macro level, the report tells us that on average 80 per cent of business leaders feel that international expansion is critical for the future success of their organisation. There are some big variations by countries, and it was very interesting to see that Chinese companies are the most ambitious when it comes moving overseas, with 97 per cent saying it was essential for their business success.

Asked what technological factors are important when considering where to move, business leaders cited the quality of IT infrastructure (62 per cent) and the quality of communications infrastructure (60 per cent) as the two most important criteria. This finding is backed up by the results when asked what are the most crucial factors in running a successful global operation, with “reliable communications across the organisation” coming out on top with 52 per cent, above other factors such as a flexible business strategy (48 per cent), reliable logistics (32 per cent) and cultural awareness (12 per cent).

Importance of digital infrastructure

Business leaders were also asked if having a first-class digital infrastructure was considered as part of their expansion plans, and if it was considered advantageous when expanding.

Here, a huge 91 per cent stated that it was a help or a great help in making a decision on where to expand into.

From these statistics, we can see that business leaders looking at success beyond their own country now see that communications, and the infrastructures and technologies that support it, are the real keys to success in a new, global world of business, outstripping more ‘traditional’ business processes and metrics.

Barriers to expansion

On the flip side, our research also found that technology can contribute to the barriers which prevent organisations from moving into their target markets. While government regulation is seen as the biggest barrier to international expansion, both the digital infrastructure (19 percent) and IT skills (19 percent) are in the top five barriers to doing business in a country.

Also, technology appears to be an internal barrier for expansion. Indeed, it tops the list with 37 per cent of business leaders saying they did not have the technology in place to achieve their international ambitions, above personnel (31 per cent) and logistics (30 per cent). Finally, we found that 74 per cent of respondents believed that digital infrastructures had at some point hindered their expansion efforts.

What do all these interesting statistics around technology in the minds of business leaders around the world tell us? Well, probably the biggest take out is that having a strong and robust digital infrastructure is becoming a pre-requisite when it comes to attracting foreign business investment to your country, not a ‘nice-to-have’. Modern business is now rooted in information and its flow within and outside an organisation’s walls. Companies need assurances that this communication, and the infrastructure that facilitates it, is robust enough to deliver, no matter where they are in the world.

It’s clear that technology has an important role to play in supporting business growth and global business expansion. I am passionate that the combination of technology, creativity and inspiration can not only support the next generation of global expansion but help business deliver some truly stunning outcomes.