Business leaders rank technology ahead of people

New media is a key platform for engagement with customers and employees, a new survey has revealed.

New media is a key platform for engagement with customers and employees, a new survey has revealed.

The world’s top business leaders now see technology as a key determinant of organisation success and a factor of production they must give more attention to so as to stay ahead of the competition.

The survey by global technology giant IBM says technology has become so central to the competitiveness of modern organisations, including national economies, that most business leaders now consider it the number one growth driver, ahead of people and market factors.

Of the 1,709 chief executives interviewed in more than 60 countries, the majority (71 per cent) now see technology as the most important external determinant of success – ahead of people skills at 69 per cent and market factors (68 per cent).

This outcome marks a significant change in how business leaders ranked success drivers four years ago when technology finished third behind people skills and market factors. The executives believe that if properly applied, technology can inspire new models of working, increase collaboration between internal and external parties as well as create new opportunities for growth.

Tony Mwai, the country general manager for IBM East Africa, says most executives are now focused on how best their firms can ride on the connections technology is creating to become more

efficient in core operation areas such as supply chain management.

Most are convinced that effective use of technology, particularly the social media, will make or break the success of an organisation in the next three years.

The paradox is, however, that of the nearly 2,000 CEOs polled, only 16 per cent are using social media as a platform to connect with customers.

That number is expected to rise to 57 per cent in the next three to five years, making it imperative for business leaders to upscale their tech skills.

The study also found that businesses that outperform their peers place a 30 per cent greater emphasis on openness -- often characterised by greater use of social media -- as a key enabler of collaboration and innovation.

Though they have been slow to pick it up, most executives acknowledge the emergence of social media as a major tool at their disposal to connect with customers and employees, especially the younger generation.

“Social networking has, and is continuing to be significant in how business is done,” the report that was officially released last week says.

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Linked- in, are singled out as social media platforms that have made an impact across markets and industries.

“We are the e-mail generation, but the market is increasingly dominated by the social network generation,” said one banking sector executive in Argentina.

The survey, however, found that despite the key role it is playing in shaping the business environment, social media remains the least utilised of all customer interaction methods.

The executives, however, said that they expect social media to move past websites and call centres to become the number-two means of engaging customers in the next five years after traditional media.

The business leaders acknowledge that the new connected era is fundamentally changing how people engage, exposing organisations to new pressures but also creating new opportunities for innovation and growth.

“Regardless of which regions or industries they are in, CEOs are dealing with a phenomenal range of fast-moving technology-linked challenges that also offer immense opportunity,” says the report.

Dow Chemical’s chief executive Andrew Liveris defines the challenges of dealing with technology in his observation that while businesses can buy people with their wallet, riding the technology wave is more complex.

“What you need most is people’s hearts…They must believe in what they are doing and in technology’s ability to help them do it better.”

The study found that across industries and regions, executives consider collaborative (75 per cent), communicative (67 per cent), creative (61 per cent) and flexibility (61 per cent) as the four personal characteristics most critical for an employees’ future success. 

The report says that 52 per cent of the executives intended to make significant changes to their organisations to improve internal collaboration.
The report says it has become more difficult for organisations to find the skills they will need in future.

This has created a challenge in conventional training because by the time courses are designed and delivered, the set of skills needed by most businesses become outdated.

This is the fifth instalment of the IBM survey, which is biennial and was carried out from the last quarter of 2011 to January 2012.

The majority of those interviewed were from North America at 37 per cent while 35 per cent came from growth markets, including Kenya.

The other executives were from Western Europe, Japan and Australia-New Zealand.


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