While so many of today’s headlines center around geopolitical tensions and the lackluster global economy, it may come as a surprise that the future of technology is the issue that actually weighs most heavily on the minds of executives across industries globally.
Each year, A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council, of which I am chairman, conducts our Views from the C-Suite survey, which reflects the collective judgment of executives on both the opportunities and the challenges in the global business operating environment. This year, technology issues are among the top of both opportunities and challenges for global C-suite executives.
In particular, cybersecurity and the adoption of new technologies are top of mind for CXOs as the role of technology in business becomes increasingly complex.
Rising cybersecurity risks top the list of operational challenges. Given the high-profile cyberattacks that companies in a variety of sectors and markets have suffered in recent years, it is unsurprising that 40 percent of business executives cite cybersecurity as one of their top three challenges.
Among the executives who point to cybersecurity risks as a major challenge, their biggest focus is on employee cybersecurity training and awareness. This is true across all sectors and regions, with executives in industry particularly focused on employee training. Other cybersecurity challenges arise from the loss of business continuity due to an attack (with executives in the IT sector ranking this above all others) and weak cyber defense systems.
The impact of new technologies on business operations is less clear cut. While 37 percent of business leaders cite difficulty in adopting new technologies as one of their greatest operational challenges in the next 12 months, 38 percent point to successful adoption of new technologies as one of their greatest opportunities. Interestingly, executives point to the same three technologies on both the opportunity and the challenge side of the equation: cloud computing, big data/predictive analytics, and mobile technology.
The C-suite is more positive about the effects of adopting cloud computing and big data/predictive analytics, while executives have a more mixed view of mobile technology.
Given that cybersecurity risks top the list of business operations challenges, the explanation for this lukewarm attitude toward mobile technology might be the difficulty of keeping mobile applications secure from cyber-attack. There are also challenges associated with big data (particularly in terms of keeping customer data secure) and cloud computing (for example, service quality and interoperability).
But global executives seem to think the opportunities associated with these technologies—such as harnessing predictive analytics to better target and serve customers and outsourcing storage and other business services to the cloud—outweigh these challenges.
Technology issues also arose in other areas of our Views from the C-Suite survey. Specifically, technological innovation, intellectual property protection, and R&D investments are critical considerations for business executives this year. These three areas all relate to developing new processes and products, a logical focus for global executives given the incredible competition companies face to remain innovative in today’s dynamic operating environment.
All of this points to the increasing importance that companies adopt the right technologies for their business and then invest sufficiently in their implementation to foster success. At the same time, mitigating the potential downsides of technology will be imperative. Failure to plan for technology surprises, or planning in a non-dynamic way, will no longer cut it.
What is needed in this time of exponential technological change and unreliable forecasting is not ad-hoc management of any one possible outcome, but rather an understanding of a range of possible outcomes, and then planning accordingly. Such nimbleness is a necessity—not only in managing the technology dimension but also the overall business.
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