Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new IBM study of global C-suite executives revealed that nearly six in ten responding organisations have accelerated their digital transformations. Traditional and perceived barriers like technology immaturity and employee opposition to change have fallen away - in fact, 66% of executives surveyed said they have completed initiatives that previously encountered resistance.
The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study "COVID-19 and the Future of Business in Singapore," shows that executives surveyed are facing a proliferation of initiatives due to the pandemic and having difficulty focusing, but do plan to prioritise internal and operational capabilities such as workforce skills and flexibility - critical areas to address in order to jumpstart progress.
The study reveals three proactive steps that emerging leaders surveyed are taking to survive and thrive.
Improving operational scalability and flexibility
The ongoing disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important it can be for businesses to be built for change. Many executives are facing demand fluctuations, new challenges to support employees working remotely and requirements to cut costs.
In addition, the study reveals that the majority of organisations are making permanent changes to their organisational strategy. For instance, 95% of Singapore executives surveyed plan to participate in platform-based business models by 2022, and many reported they will increase participation in ecosystems and partner networks. Executives are looking towards more scalable and flexible IT infrastructure in recognising this. Many within the survey indicated they are increasing their investments in innovative technologies such as AI and IoT, as well as the cloud and blockchain to assist with the new demands on the IT infrastructure. Executives have become more trusting of what technology can do and are pushing ahead with digital transformation.
Applying AI, automation and other exponential technologies to help make workflows more intelligent
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted critical workflows and processes at the heart of many organisations' core operations. Technologies like AI, automation and cybersecurity that could help make workflows more intelligent, responsive and secure are increasing priority across the board for responding global executives. Over the next two years, the report finds:
77% of Singapore executives said they are increasing their cybersecurity commitments in line with increasing concerns, with 42% planning to use AI to enhance their cybersecurity simultaneously
87% plan to focus on enterprise agility, which is the most important issue for Singapore leaders
Simultaneously, as companies look more inwards, the management of cost is a key topic for Singapore executives
Coincidentally, reducing costs is cited as the top benefit attributed to transformation initiatives
With executives increasingly invest in cloud, AI, automation and other exponential technologies, IBM recommends leaders should keep in mind the users of that technology – their people. These digital tools should enable a positive employee experience by design, and support people's innovation and productivity.
Leading, engaging and enabling the workforce in new ways
The study showed that there is a disconnect between employers and employees, particularly around what employers are offering versus what employees consider a priority.
Businesses surveyed are seeing more clearly the critical role people play in driving their ongoing transformation. Executives contend that employee well-being is among their highest priorities. Despite this, only about half of employees say they believe that their employer is genuinely concerned about their welfare. Workforce safety, skills, and flexibility have taken precedence, while employee satisfaction has been severely deprioritised. The research clearly shows a gaping chasm between what executives think they are offering their employees and how those employees feel.
IBM recommends executives place deeper focus on their people, putting employees' end-to-end well-being first to address this gap. Empathetic leaders who encourage personal accountability and support employees to work in self-directed squads that apply design thinking, Agile principles and DevOps tools and techniques can be beneficial. Organisations should also think about adopting a holistic, multi-modal model of skills development to help employees develop both the behavioural and technical skills required to work in the new normal and foster a culture of continuous learning.