What do CEOs really think about digital transformation?

Surveys | Technology

The modern-day CEO exists in an age of real-time data and fast-paced decision making. No more outdated reports, sales briefings or gut decisions. Business information is ubiquitous and shifts at speed. Most leaders can now access their business data around the clock from any device.

But how are CEOs reacting to this era of leadership, and what do they see as their priorities for the future through digital transformation?

We spoke to over 100 CEOs in the UK to find out, and it became immediately clear that experience is a big differentiator. The research saw a stark demographic split: 84% of CEOs aged 25 – 34 think a lack of data skills and understanding could threaten the future of their business, compared to just half of over 55s. It seems the challenge for any CEOs is advocating data-led business, while not getting bogged down in the operational weeds of data analytics.

Emerging versus established CEOs

So how are CEOs attempting to strike the balance? There’s a clear divide. The traditional working day is all but dead for many CEOs, with a third now checking business analytics first thing in the morning and last thing before they go to bed. That peaks at 54% among 25 – 34-year-olds, but drops to just 5% for leaders over 45, who are much more fixed to their desk.

Of course, emerging CEOs benefit from starting their career in the digital age, with many of their decisions being informed by data, while their more established counterparts have had to draw upon experience and general trends. What they do have in common, though, is the need to upskill employees to cope with the new information age. Many are wary of the consequences of stagnating and failing to properly understand their data; 71% believe their business could be at risk from current blind spots in data access and skills.

Investing in the future of the business

Digital transformation for many organisations has come a long way, especially when you consider the way enterprise data was handled only ten years ago. Previously, business processes were built backwards, using centralised teams or complex IT processes to build reports for senior leaders to consume. In many scenarios, this would mean relying on data sent around on email or in presentations resulting in data often being inaccurate or out-dated. Today the current pace of business requires real-time, active data that is available to anyone anywhere.

As a result, when asked what they plan to invest in most over the next five years, over a quarter of leaders said their focus would be on systems to help manage the wealth of data and analytics, while only cyber security and compliance ranked higher (33%).

The report also found that the importance of data, and how it is shared, varies greatly depending on the size of the organisation. Just 39 percent of large businesses have one central system in place, compared to just under half (47%) of small firms. And because of this, CEOs spend up to 72% of working time in meetings, according to researchers at Harvard Business School – leaving little time to take a step back and become more curious in the way their company is running. Within large organisations, data has become a free-for-all.

Leading at the speed of data

Among business leaders, there’s now a clear understanding that data is integral for the future of their organisation. They realise they need to evolve, adapt and invest to keep pace with their competitors, and that means putting the right data in the hands of everyone to create an efficient workforce and curious leadership. It’s ensuring every employee is empowered to make decisions for today’s business and tomorrow. The only barrier being that many are still trying to make sense of it through traditional practices and approaches, and that’s the biggest change that needs to happen.

In any growing business, CEOs need to become the digital leaders, ensuring the right training and tools to maximise every possible opportunity. It’s well within their grasp, especially when it comes to advocating and implementing access to real-time business data. By leading from the front, CEOs have the ability to create a data-led culture within their organisation, a culture that will ultimately free up more time for the C-Suite to make faster, better and more informed decisions.

This article is authored by Ian Tickle, senior VP and general manager for EMEA at Domo.

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