Business leaders disagree over technology priorities: GDS survey

Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, AI and Cloud Computing all score similarly in terms of priority for IT leaders

Yet Big Data / Analytics is the top priority for the CEO/board

Digital transformation is the only trend which is prioritised by all senior job roles

 GDS Group, the global events, research and technology services company, has today announced the results of the second of a two-part research study into the top IT trends concerning business leaders today.

The Business Technology Barometer report (Part 2) looks at how technology priorities have shifted in the four months since part 1 was conducted in December 2020, while also identifying the divergence of priorities across roles within the business, and leaders’ preferences for the many different ways they can keep themselves up-to-date with developments in their industry.

The report anonymously polled over 200 GDS customers – all senior leaders (VP/Directors and above) from major global brands. In total, 74% were from large organisations (2,500+employees) and 71% were at Director-level or higher. The research was independently conducted and analysed by Boost Evaluation Limited.

Digital transformation and AI/automation are the most important topics for business leaders

Digital transformation and AI/automation are the hottest topics for business leaders today, scoring 7.7 and 7.6 out of 10 respectively. AI/automation has seen the biggest shift in the four months between the two studies, having ranked 5th out of 6 in December 2020 but jumping to second place in April 2021. By contrast, IT security, which was the most important topic in Part 1 with a score of 9.0 out of 10, has dropped to 4th place with a score of 6.3/10.

Leaders are struggling to agree on priorities

When evaluating the results against specific job roles, there are some interesting differences. IT leaders have no clear preference in terms of hot topics; while ‘Cyber Security and Resilience’ received the highest average score for importance (7.8), it was followed closely with ‘Digital Transformation’ (7.7), ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (7.6) and ‘Cloud Computing’ (7.5) all earning very similar scores, suggesting IT leaders are struggling to prioritise against a backdrop of numerous enticing and disruptive trends.

Board members (as with the previous report) don’t share the same views as IT in terms of technological priorities, and seem to be most closely aligned to finance in terms of what is and isn’t important. Big Data and Augmented Analytics is the top priority for the CEO/board (7.9), as it was with Finance (9.0). Digital transformation is the only area where all job roles are in broad agreement, with all roles giving it a priority score of 7.3 or above.

How are leaders keeping themselves educated and up-to-speed?

GDS also asked respondents to score out of ten how convenient and effective they found various types of learning (supplier exhibitions, virtual roundtables, written content, digital content etc.) in order to determine which methods of learning are considered to be most convenient and effective.

The most effective mode of learning (face-to-face training) was acknowledged as being the least convenient. After a prolonged period where remote learning has been the one and only option, the time spent travelling to a conference or seminar has clearly been put into the spotlight. Supplier exhibitions were the only mode which were considered both inconvenient and ineffective, suggesting a preference for virtual events – in all forms – for some time to come. The various digital modes of learning are mostly clustered together in the high convenience and medium effectiveness zone, while digital versions of face-to-face learning received a disappointingly low score for effectiveness.

An embarrassment of riches for IT leaders?

Spencer Green, founder and chairman of GDS comments on the report’s findings, “Who would want to be an IT leader right now? With so many enticing and disruptive trends to consider, IT leaders are clearly struggling to choose where their priorities should lie. While digital transformation is the top trend for business leaders more generally, IT leaders have security, digital transformation, AI and cloud all competing for their attention.

“Or to look at it another way, is this an embarrassment of riches for IT leaders? Technology is transforming the world at a pace never seen before, with IT leaders at the forefront. It is only natural, therefore, for IT leaders to be interested in so many different topics, because each one is so important and potentially transformative to the future of their organisations. However, with disagreement among the different leadership roles over which technologies should be prioritised, IT leaders have their work cut out for them. Business leaders need clarity of vision and an understanding of the opportunities available to them so they can make informed investment decisions. As the technology evangelists and experts within their organisation, IT leaders have a responsibility to educate themselves on all of these topics so that they can better educate their non-technical peers on the opportunities available to them so they can make the right decisions to transform the business.”

Read the full report, “Business Technology Barometer: Part 2,” by GDS Group here: