CEOs prepared to take ownership for driving digital transformation

01 June 2018 3 min. read

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, disruption is touted as the largest risk to businesses globally. Established leaders such as Kodak or Nokia were wiped away from the scene following disruption, while in other cases, big technological innovation has turned industries upside down – think of in the hotel industry, or Uber in the taxi industry.

The threat called disruption that looms around the corner therefore has a negative association among managers and employees. Managers are expected to find ways to overcome the phenomenon – revisit strategies, rework business processes and change the way organsiations are run. Employees on the work floor are meanwhile expected to bring all those changes to life. Both groups inherently don’t like change, and the potential threats which follow in its slipstream, and as a result they tend to dislike the term.

A new research study however finds that in the absolute top of the organsiation, there is a lot less anxiety. In fact, CEOs are not frightened by the sweeping changes that digital brings, but to the contrary optimistic. According to the study by KPMG among 1,300 CEOs in eleven countries, including six European countries (UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Spain), the vast majority – 95% – see technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat. Many are determined to seize the competitive edge it offers and get on the front foot. Over half of CEOs (54%) believe they are actively disrupting the sector in which they operate, rather than waiting to be disrupted by competitors.

How prepared CEOs are to personally lead disruption

Interestingly, to win the digital race, CEOs are taking close personal ownership of driving digital transformation. They are taking on – as a personal responsibility – the obligation to protect data and earn the public’s trust. They are trying to understand the power of data to personalise the customer experience, and are investing in themselves (most CEOs don’t have a digital background) to embrace the likes of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things to reshape their businesses. And, as automation reconfigures the workforce, CEOs are planning how to prepare their people for the age of the smart machine. 

Samuel Tsien, Group CEO of Singapore-headquartered OCBC Bank, highlights that he believes the ‘mainstream’ view of disruption is misplaced. “The word disruption, often used in association with digital technologies, has an antagonistic feel that I’ve never liked,” he says. “Instead, we need to look at it as a transformation that is brought about by the change in our market environment.” 

Of all CEOs surveyed, 71% say that they are prepared to lead their organisation through a radical transformation of its operating model. Perhaps not surprisingly, American CEOs have the boldest ambitions and appear to be the most prepared to drive this transformative change, with 91% saying that they are prepared to step up to the plate. They are keen to be first-movers, too: 86% of CEOs in the US feel their organisation is actively disrupting the sector in which they operate. 

CEOs in European powerhouses France and Germany follow, with a score of 73% and 69% respectively. Boardroom leaders in China and Japan, as well as in Spain and the Netherlands, demonstrate the least commitment to taking ownership for leading game-changing strategies and operating model transformation.