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IT Priorities 2023: Business automation intensifies as data governance returns

Business automation and a renewed focus on data governance to get more value from data have attracted more interest for UK enterprise software investment, says the TechTarget IT Priorities 2023 survey

Accelerated business automation, a rediscovery of data governance and a significant shift to customer experience activities are highlights of enterprise software and data management investment for IT buyers in the UK, according to the annual TechTarget/Computer Weekly IT priorities 2023 survey.

The 2023 iteration of the survey was carried out between November 2022 and February 2023. The UK cohort of the global survey comprised 156 technology decision-makers, of whom one-third were chief information officers, 30% were IT managers and 13% were other IT professionals.

The survey found that investment in business automation projects was up by 9% to 36%, compared with the 2022 research. Robotic process automation (RPA) projects were up by 81% to 20% of respondents saying those were investment priorities for 2023. Customer experience (CX) was also significantly up as an investment area, by 37% to 26%.

The research indicates 2023 to be the year of automation, from the use of super-hyped generative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as ChatGPT to more traditional business and IT automation. Organisations in the EMEA region are planning to increase their use of automation more than North America and Asia-Pacific, according to the research.

But in terms of a specific area of business applications, customer experience is well to the fore of investment projects. Some 43% said they will invest in customer experience software spanning marketing, sales and contact centre management.

Stephanie Corby, practice director at TechTarget’s analyst division, Enterprise Strategy Group, says: “CX is a top business driver for enterprise organisations ... but the reality is that most organisations are still in the early stages of CX maturity and strategy. The complexity of CX technology stacks has created integration and adoption challenges that will inevitably drive conversion to platforms.”

Learning and skills development came in as a distant third to CX, at 32% of respondents. Enterprise resource planning, the core application of business applications, came in at 26%, while supply chain management was bottom of the pile at 15%, down from 23% in the UK cut of the same survey for 2022.

Read more about the TechTarget/Computer Weekly IT Priorities survey

Supply chain management had been a high priority in 2022, at 23%. Many of the more complex companies, with inelastic global supply chains, had a torrid Covid-19 pandemic, and been forced into unexpected supply chain changes.

Customer analytics and customer service support are both growing in 2023 as against 2022, the research found. Significant numbers of respondents are increasing their investments in advanced customer understanding technologies: 26% are investing in customer journey mapping, 19% in marketing automation and KM, and 16% in chatbots.

HR software is another region growing in 2023 as against the previous year. Learning management and skills development was the top category for investment, at 35%. This may suggest organisations are proactively investing in in-house talent as a means to obviate such trends as quiet quitting or the “great resignation” of the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Similarly, another business applications area that organisations are planning to invest in heavily which might suggest a buttress against attrition is knowledge management, long considered a relic of the late 1990s. KM came out as third in the content management category, behind the more routine and mechanical areas of content management systems and e-signatures.

In terms of the emperor of business applications, ERP, this year’s research found that users of legacy systems are struggling to migrate to cloud delivery, but that more are willing to make the leap because of new functionalities that derive from artificial intelligence/machine learning, the internet of things, blockchain and better application integrations.

Real-time data analytics moves forward

Better customer understanding and service is one of the use cases for real-time data analytics. Not coincidentally, that technology emerged as a top investment area from the research.

Stephen Catanzano, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, said, apropos the research: “In 2023, I see a significant shift toward the use of data for real-time decision-making becoming a reality for all sizes of companies, as technology in this space has innovated and matured over the past few years.”

Three areas that emerged as growing in 2023 as against 2022 were: data science and machine learning platforms, at 23%; embedded analytics, at 19%; and data preparation, at 17%.

Data governance seems to be seeing a re-emergence as a new wave of regulation in the area of AI – one example being the EU’s AI Act – comes into being.

2023 has been shaping up as the year of data value, as digital transformation and the underpinning digitisation of data has brought data governance, stewardship, data observability and IT Ops into the spotlight.

Growing this year as against 2022 as areas for investment are: data quality, at 36%; data governance, at 56; cloud data warehousing, at 19%; and data lakehouses, at 8%. The “data lakehouse” is a portmanteau term combining the data warehouse with the unstructured data lakes that emerged with and after the rise and fall of Hadoop, as a software framework for big data. It has mainly been the domain of Databricks, but has gained traction outside that particular supplier, for example, chez Cloudera.

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