From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to now, the word that best characterises my experience, my team's experience, and our clients’ experiences, is disruption. Therefore, it’s no surprise to me that driving digital operations was a key focus for CEOs according to our 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey (conducted in early 2021).
The survey found that 74 percent of organisations had accelerated the digitisation of their operations, up notably from 50 percent in our August 2020 survey, showing the impact of the pandemic on priorities.
Organisations across the globe quickly sought out technology solutions to enable their businesses to move faster, to respond on the ‘fly’, and build resilience.
Pre-COVID-19, many CEOs took time to weigh up how much of their political or financial capital they want to spend on a new technology that represented a risk as well as an opportunity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no time for this. CEOs have had to balance risk-aversity with the need for rapid change – digital transformation was vital to success.
In 2021, CEOs plan to spend more on digital technologies, with 50 percent focusing that investment on customer-centric technologies. This is not hard to explain – customer behaviour has changed dramatically over the past year, and will continue to do so as we emerge from COVID-19.
The rapid changes in customer behaviour also means that the data that we've been accumulating for the past 5-10 years is less useful in predicting what will happen in more disruptive times. Investment in the right data and analytics tools to collect real-time information will help organisations to understand and manage changes as they unfold.
Organisations may not build all of this capability in-house. Instead, for 61 percent of respondents, M&A appetite over the next 3 years will be driven by acquiring digital technology to transform their customer experience or value proposition.
A noticeable shift in recent times, for both organisations and customers, has been a growing interest in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agendas. For 89 percent of survey respondents, a goal is to lock in the sustainability and climate change gains that their companies have made during the pandemic.
An important step in keeping up this momentum will be gathering insight on what customers think about ESG issues and responding to these concerns. With the right technology, customer sentiment can be gathered from the online social discussions that are happening hour-to-hour, day-to-day. Using AI, it is possible to mix this unstructured data with structured data to create practical insights that are useful for decision making.
With cyber-attacks on the rise, it is understandable that the survey revealed 52 percent of leaders are prioritising spend on data security measures in the year ahead. Cyber security was ranked as the number one risk to growth by surveyed CEOs too, up from fifth place in the August 2020 survey.
As more activities become digital, from work to shopping and entertainment, platforms exposed to cyber-attack has increased. We like to believe that if we are upgrading our operating systems, have new end-point security software, or have a new cyber response team, our systems will be safe. However, cyber attackers are maturing in their capabilities, meaning cyber security must be a continual focus and conversation in all businesses.
Leveraging the abilities of technology to stay a step ahead of changing customer behaviour, new cyber security risks and higher ESG expectations from stakeholders will be central to securing growth post-pandemic. When assessing your own digital transformation journey, there are three questions I recommend leaders ask themselves: