A new IBM study of global C-Suite executives revealed that nearly six in ten organizations have accelerated their digital transformations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 66% of executives said they have completed initiatives that previously encountered resistance. In India, 55% of Indian executives plan to increase their prioritization of digital transformation efforts over the next two years.
The IBM Institute for Business Value study “COVID-19 and the Future of Business,” includes input from more than 3,800 C-Suite executives in 20 countries and 22 industries, including 172 executives from India.
During the pandemic, traditional and perceived barriers to digital transformation like technology immaturity and employee opposition to change have fallen away. Now, executives see organizational complexity, inadequate skills and employee burnout as the biggest hurdles to overcome — both today and in the next two years.
The study shows that over the next two years, most executives plan to focus on internal and operational capabilities, such as increasing prioritization of workforce skills and flexibility – critical areas to address in order to jumpstart progress.
“In the last few months, we have witnessed year-long digital transformation and adaption compressed into weeks. Companies in every industry have been encouraged to initiate digitization measures, propelled by the infusion of automation and AI, and look forward to building cognitive enterprises of the future,” said Kamal Singhani, Country Managing Partner, Global Business Services, IBM India/South Asia.
The study reveals three proactive steps that CXOs are taking to survive and thrive:
- Improving operational scalability and flexibility
The report reveals that the majority of organizations are making permanent changes to their organizational strategy. For instance, 94% of global executives plan to participate in platform-based business models by 2022, and many will increase participation in ecosystems and partner networks.
IBM researchers believe that executing these new strategies will require a more scalable and flexible IT infrastructure like hybrid cloud in India. As the study shows, at present, only 11% of executives in India are highly prioritizing operational scalability, but that number will grow to 41% over the next two years, an increase of 30 percentage points. Likewise, only 56% of executives are prioritizing cloud today but IBM researchers predict in the next two years 81% are set to prioritize cloud.
- Applying AI, automation, cybersecurity to make workflows more intelligent
Technologies like AI, automation and cybersecurity can make workflows more intelligent, responsive and secure – and they are increasing in priority across the board for global executives. Over the next two years, executives in India report that they have plans to increasingly apply automation across all business functions. For instance, Indian executives plan to increase prioritizing AI from 34% today to 59% in next 2 years and 71% of executives in India plan to prioritize cybersecurity in the next two years.
As executives increasingly invest in cloud, AI, automation and other exponential technologies, IBM recommends leaders should keep in mind the users of that technology – their people. These digital tools should enable a positive employee experience by design, and support people’s innovation and productivity.
- Leading, engaging and enabling the workforce in new ways
The study showed placing a renewed focus on people may be critical amid the COVID-19 pandemic while many employees are working outside of traditional offices and dealing with heightened personal stress and uncertainty. Ongoing IBV consumer research has shown that the expectations employees have of their employers have shifted amidst the pandemic – employees now expect that their employers will take an active role in supporting their physical and emotional health as well as the skills they need to work in new ways.
Seventy four percent of Indian executives believe they are helping their employees learn the skills needed to work in a new way, and 85% of Indian executives say that they are supporting the physical and emotional health of their workforce, the study shows.
Globally too, over two-thirds of executives said they will prioritize establishing remote work over the next two years as an option for their employees to ensure employee health, productivity and motivation. Executives in industries like education, BFSI and IT services are mostly expected to be working remotely in two years.
Around 1% of Indian executives said they highly prioritized workforce safety and security, crisis management or enterprise agility, two years ago. Today, that number is 21% and in 2 years, will be 60%. Two years ago, only 3% of Indian executives provided employees access to mental health resources. Now, 41% of executives plan to provide access to mental health resources.
Needless to say, the pandemic was a wake-up call for businesses as it has created both risks and opportunities for them. It is imperative that organizations react in real time to navigate this new environment, say IBM researchers. Only executives who can manage complexity and drive competitiveness by tying digital transformation to business priorities can emerge successful in this ‘new normal’.