UNCERTAINTY is mounting for technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) businesses against a turbulent economic and political backdrop, according to the latest research by Grant Thornton.
The optimism of more than 450 TMT leaders, surveyed as part of our International Business Report, fell to net 29 percent in the first half of 2019, down from 45 percent just six months earlier. Expectations on revenues, profits and employment have also taken a hit.
But with businesses in other industries increasingly looking to new technologies as the path to transformation, this is also a time of opportunity. So, how can the TMT industry ride out the turbulence and thrive?
Intensified trade barriers
The higher levels of economic uncertainty in the industry are not surprising. In recent months, regulatory scrutiny has increased for some of the TMT’s biggest players. The European Commission has imposed $9.5 billion in antitrust fines against Google, while Facebook has been subjected to probes from data protection authorities after the General Data Protection Regulation took effect last year.
As Nick Watson, global head of TMT at Grant Thornton says: “Regulators are starting to wake up to threats, and debates about data protection and privacy are only just beginning. An increase in regulation will drive up costs. And this can also get very political as trade barriers start springing up.”
These higher costs are reflected in the research results, which show expectations for selling prices and exports in the next 12 months falling for TMT firms, compared with those recorded six months ago.
The impact is particularly pronounced in global electronics, which are heavily traded and operate across complex cross-border chains. Activity has declined for many producers and semiconductor sales are falling at double-digit rates.
Technology is also at the forefront of heightened US-China trade tensions. Only 30 initial public offerings were recorded from Chinese TMT companies in the first half of this year, compared with 40 in the second half of 2018.
“A lot of the TMT businesses Grant Thornton works with are born global,” Watson says. “Increased tariffs and trade wars will hurt, creating issues around the sustainability of some of the industry’s complex supply chains.”
Trade barriers have also exacerbated long-standing concerns around skill shortages and migration of labor. Some 49 percent of TMT businesses cite the availability of skilled workers as a major constraint, second only to the transport and health care sectors.
“The war for talent is particularly prominent in the TMT industry, because its needs are tighter and specific skillsets are more difficult to obtain,” Watson explains. “To ensure access to the best talent the market has to offer, TMT firms can look to build a greater presence near the talent pool.”
Software company Planixs, recently ranked as one of the United Kingdom’s fastest-growing tech firms, moved its operations to Manchester in late 2018 to access the right talent. Thanks to its close proximity to four major universities, Planixs now has access to a steady talent pipeline and can take full advantage of Manchester’s new position as a center for tech investment.
Shy of moving their entire headquarters, mid-sized TMT businesses can also benefit from this by moving research-and-development (R&D) activity near these centers. In the United States, the greater Boston area — home to 55 major research institutions — has become a real draw from such activity in recent years.
Watson explains that “while education still isn’t moving fast enough to keep up with demand, there is a lot that TMT businesses can do to attract and retain the talent they need to thrive.”
Turning risk into opportunity
Amid these headwinds, TMT businesses are battening down the hatches when it comes to investment. Projections for both R&D and information technology investment in the industry are down, at odds with healthier — even rising — expectations across the broader mid-market.
“The best management teams we talk to are technology optimists but business realists. Some of their plans are contingent on raising capital,” Watson says. “The TMT industry is typically cyclical, and mostly in line with global economic sentiment. Thinking longer-term can help businesses ride out uncertainty.”
With tech investment intentions broadly healthy across the mid-market, TMT businesses have a real opportunity to respond. The demand for certain technologies is likely to grow, particularly cloud services, financial technology, video games, and streaming, as well as the internet of things and differentiated online services.
With governments worldwide using various incentives to stimulate R&D, including grants and tax incentives, mid-sized TMT businesses can access the tools they need to transform their products and services. And with the lines between technology, media and telecommunications becoming increasingly blurred, firms can look to partner with other organizations in the industry to accelerate the innovation process.
“Mid-sized TMT businesses have the opportunity to act as trailblazers as companies look to transform their digital and technological offerings,” Watson says. “What is required is to recognize where demand is likely to grow and make strategic investments to this end.”
Anton Ng is a partner in the Audit and Assurance division of P&A Grant Thornton, one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines. The firm with 23 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you. Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook at P&A Grant Thornton and email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.grantthornton.com.ph