Growing businesses almost twice as likely to be run by a tech-savvy leader

Growing businesses are led by leaders that know about – and regularly talk about – technology, according to new findings from Thoughtworks, a global software consultancy, in a new report, ‘Tech proficiency: The new imperative for business growth, leadership and agility.’

Surveying 969 CEOs and CIOs across 12 different countries, the research revealed that among businesses that anticipated growth in 2021, three-quarters (74%) were led by leaders that kept fully up-to-date with the latest technology developments, compared with 42% of leaders of companies that were not predicting growth. Meanwhile, leaders of non-growing businesses were more than twice as likely to rely on the tech expertise of others instead (55% vs 25%). 

The leaders of growing businesses were also significantly more likely to say their management team’s knowledge of new technology developments was ‘good’ in relation to key areas of business technology. In particular, their digital proficiency was superior in areas including digital transformation (47% of growing businesses vs. 37% of non-growing businesses), cloud computing (39% vs. 29%), data strategy (44% vs. 32%), and software platforms (34% vs. 26%).

The big discussion

Growing businesses were also ones that discussed tech issues at board level on a regular basis. Among growing businesses, over half (52%) had board level discussions around digital transformation at least on a monthly basis. This fell to 40% amongst non-growing businesses.

Businesses that admitted being held back by their tech capabilities were four times less likely to have board-level discussions about digital transformation and operations each month than businesses that described themselves as technologically advanced. They were also half as likely to discuss customer experience, and were 30% less likely to discuss enterprise modernisation.

Among those respondents who did not regularly discuss tech issues at board-level, the reasons included: not understanding the problems (39%), not knowing how to implement or manage them (33%), or a feeling that they were not a priority (50%). 

UK businesses discussing key tech issues far less frequently

Businesses in the UK were more confident about their tech abilities than those in most other regions. More than three quarters (76%) of business leaders in the UK said their enterprises were using technology to gain a competitive advantage. Only China had a higher proportion (at 83%) among the 12 countries surveyed.

There was also a correspondingly high proportion of business leaders who said they kept fully up to date with latest digital innovation and trends. In total, 76% of UK senior executives put themselves in this group – a far higher proportion than the global average of 65%. Only the USA and Brazil had a higher proportion. 

However, despite these impressive figures, the number of times that core technology issues are discussed in UK management and leadership meetings was less than the global average.

Over half (56%) admitted enterprise modernization was discussed every few months, once a year, or never. By contrast, more than half of businesses in the USA (56%), Australia (57%), and Brazil (71%) said enterprise modernization featured in senior level discussions either monthly or more frequently. 

A similar pattern was seen in UK businesses for digital transformation (53% discussing every few months or less), and customer digital experience (51%). 

Ruth Harrison, managing director at Thoughtworks UK commented: “Talking about technology matters. Boards that regularly discuss how technology can help improve all aspects of their business are better placed to make decisions that will improve competitiveness, make them agile and more resilient in the face of unpredictable and changing economic conditions. 

“Technology isn’t just about hardware or software products that can be plugged into to solve a problem. It is about the culture of an organization – and that culture starts at the top. Today’s CEO needs to be as well versed in data strategy, platform capability and engineering excellence, as they are about sales, marketing and accounts. These will all have an influence on future business performance.”

These findings give further support to the notion that technology, data and software are so integral to business success that these issues need to be central to business thinking. The gap between those that do and those that don’t will become more apparent as the world re-emerges from the pandemic. 

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