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Digital is a long-term objective, CEOs warned

Don't believe anyone who promises to transform a business digitally in three years, says Gartner Fellow Mark Raskino

More business chiefs are putting their trust in technology to drive business growth, a new survey from Gartner has reported.

Gartner’s 2018 CEO and senior business executive survey of 460 CEO and senior business executives examined their business issues, as well as some areas of technology agenda impact.

The survey reported that 61% of business leaders who took part in the research said they intend to increase spending on IT in 2018, while 32% plan to make no changes to spending and only 7% anticipate spending cuts.

Business leaders were also asked whether they have a management initiative or transformation programme to make their business more digital. The majority (62%) said they did. Of those organisations, 54% said their digital business objective is transformational, while 46% said the objective is optimisation.

Gartner also found that “digital” was increasingly being used as a buzzword among business leaders. When asked to describe their top five business priorities, the number of respondents mentioning the word digital at least once has risen from 2.1% in the 2012 survey to 13.4 % in 2018. This positive attitude toward digital business is backed up by CEOs’ continuing intent to invest in IT, said Gartner.

Commenting on the results, Mark Raskino, vice-president and Gartner Fellow, said: “When we look at the general business priority results, there is a strong sense that corporations are at a stretch. We came out of the financial crisis with unemployment and under-employment in the economy. CEOs could grow by adding more people to do the same thing. These companies are now looking at structural development and M&A activities to continue the growth.”

According to Raskino, this means there is a sudden focus on the workforce, particularly in terms of hiring. “It is very important to find a new engine for growth,” he said. “If you want the people who get you to grow, you have to hire the right people.”

Specifically, the executives regarded tech-related skills such as data analytics, programming, IoT and digital marketing as important skills.

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The survey highlighted the importance of culture change, but only 37% of those surveyed believed that deep cultural change was needed in their company by 2020. Raskino said: “Digital business is colossal, changing fundamentally certain kinds of products and service. This does not happen overnight. It is a long haul.

“If you remember the shift from WAP banking to app banking – this took eight years, and it was a relatively superficial change. But a deeper change to the product and services of your business can take 10 or more year – some will even take 15 years. The risk for business leaders is that some people believe you can do it in three years.”

The challenge for business leaders is that investment in new business models and digital products changes the investor proposition, said Raskino.

“Investor confidence is expressed through board governance. Often no one on the board of directors will have a tech background, so the group behaviour is not to be risk aggressive.”

This risk-averse governance can hamper a CEO’s ability to drive a long-term fundamental shift in the business towards digital products and services, he said. But growth needs to come from somewhere, and digital promises a good return. Raskino added: “Digital revenue will increase by 10% by 2020. This growth cannot be achieved in a traditional way, such as going after emerging markets.”

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