Some argue that the recent fall in Big Tech share prices is a sign the golden age of digital growth is drawing to an end.
But while investors might be getting jittery about the prospects of hyped trends such as the metaverse, Nash Squared chief executive Bev White says a commitment to tech spending is still very much at the top of the boardroom agenda.
“This is a wave of change that isn’t set to reverse,” she says. “Change has started and people are open to it. As we move forward, digital leaders need to continue to change the way that businesses operate.”
Proof for this sentiment comes in the form of Nash Squared’s Digital Leadership Report. The annual survey of 1,800 digital leaders, produced by the recruitment firm in collaboration with CIONET, suggests global tech spend is set to grow at its third-fastest rate in over 15 years.
More than half (52%) of digital leaders expect their technology budget to rise during the next year – and that’s despite 87% of respondents expecting an economic downturn.
White suggests the explanation for this growth is that digital transformation projects during the past two years have stimulated executives’ interests in technology.
Businesses had to find tech-enabled ways of doing things differently as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, whether that was putting processes into the cloud or creating new digital platforms to help customers interact effectively.
Yet the board’s interest in all-things digital is not just about looking back on recent glories; White says organisations are continuing to invest in technology in the post-COVID age because they think it will help them cope with what’s coming next.
In short, digital leaders believe an investment in technology – whether that’s on-demand IT, data analytics or automation – will help their organisations deal with what’s already a hugely challenging business environment.
That’s something that also comes through in Gartner’s technology predictions for 2023. The analyst says digital leaders looking to enhance their organization’s financial position during times of economic turbulence must look to new forms of operational excellence while continuing to accelerate digital transformation.
White says huge macro-economic pressures around the globe are causing senior executives to think much more carefully about how to get close to customers, to boost growth, and to potentially take cost out of the business.
She also refers to pressures on supply chains. Executives have seen the disruptions caused first by the pandemic and then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and are now looking for tools to respond flexibly to fluctuations in supply and demand.
The solutions to many of these challenges, says White, are likely to come via technology. And for many businesses, the starting point for that response is going to a continued investment in cloud computing.
This focus on on-demand IT might seem surprising. After a decade or more on the IT agenda, and a couple of years of targeted investment due to the pandemic, you’d be forgiven for assuming that a shift to cloud computing was yesterday’s news.
However, the Nash Squared survey shows that interest in the cloud is still very much today’s priority.
“It’s still growing and evolving as a market, with a quite young set of technologies and capabilities,” says White.
Just under two-thirds (63%) of digital leaders report large-scale use of the cloud and half of respondents expect it to deliver a competitive advantage over the coming 12 months.
“Growth will come from people continuing to move into the cloud,” she says. “The very large organisations still have big legacy platforms. At some point in the future, those platforms are going to need to shift and move as well.”
So, the commitment to the cloud remains strong – and White says that’s because digital leaders want their sunk investments in on-demand IT to settle before they embark on a whole new range of initiatives focused on emerging technological areas.
She gives an example: “If you’re in retail, it’s a very different kind of experience as an employee than it was two or three years ago. Right now, people just want to embed that change a bit before they go on to the next big wave.”
For many digital leaders, the next area of attention is likely to be data, which the report refers to as “the gem in the digital economy”.
Almost two-thirds (64%) of digital leaders believe big data and analytics will be in the top two technologies to deliver a competitive advantage during the next year.
However, the research also suggests that polishing these data gems remains a challenge for most organisations. Only a fifth (21%) of digital leaders feel their businesses are very or extremely effective at using data insights to generate more revenue.
While companies recognise the power of analytical insight, the reports suggests the complexity of managing big data is starting to take its toll.
One big challenge is getting the right skills – almost half (43%) of digital leaders are hampered by a skills shortage in big data and analytics.
Another explanation for a drop in confidence, says White, is that many companies are still fixated on reaping the potential benefits from the cloud.
Digital leaders and their business counterparts are often taking a wait-and-see approach to big data, which means letting the market mature a bit more before splashing the cash in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
“Quite often, these AI and ML initiatives start with small projects,” she says. “Businesses are still putting their IT investment into big, sustainable change, such as underlying cloud infrastructures and applications.”
However, digital leaders and line-of-business professionals must be careful not to take their eyes off the ball. While an investment in a flexible cloud platform is crucial to delivering digital transformation, they must continue to explore the potential for data-led change.
“An investment in AI and robotics means that businesses can be more efficient, which means they can start thinking about taking out some of the day-to-day costs in their organisations,” she says.
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