CEOs eye digital skills for all execs

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Having executives that are digitally-savvy is one of the top organisational competencies business leaders have prioritised, according to the results of Gartner's 2019 CEO and senior business executive survey.

Conducted in the fourth quarter of 2018, the study examined the perspectives of CEOs, business issues as well as some areas of technology. Gartner says 473 CEOs and senior executives across the globe, including SA, provided their input for the survey.

The research found CEOs globally are concerned that some of the executive roles do not possess strong or even sufficient digital skills to face the future. Furthermore, CEOs believe, on overage, sales, risk, supply chain and HR officers are most in need of more digital skills.

"Data-centric decision-making is a key culture and capability change in a management system that hopes to thrive in the digital age. Executive leaders must be a role model to encourage and foster data centricity and data literacy in their business units and the organisation as a whole," says Mark Raskino, vice-president and Gartner fellow.

Future workforce

With the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) on the horizon, the digital component of most jobs will accelerate. To future-proof their careers, employees will be required to have different skill sets in areas such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, drone technology, cyber security and the Internet of things.

With this in mind, business and government leaders alike have committed to make sure the current and future workforce will be able to respond to a demand-led skills development system.

Although it's early days, SA's government set up a 30-member commission that will coordinate the development of the country's national response through a comprehensive action plan to deal with 4IR. The Department of Communications will provide the commission with operational support.

Gartner's analysis shows 18% of CEOs named talent management as part of the organisational competencies their company needs to develop, followed by technology enablement and digitalisation (17%), and data centricity or data management (15%).

The surveyed CEOs believe once all executive leaders are more comfortable with the digital sphere, new capabilities to execute on their business strategies will need to be developed.

When asked about productivity and efficiency within the business, CEOs noted technology as an effective enablement tool, with 47% mentioning tech as one of their top two ways to improve productivity.

Growth prospects

Identifying other areas and new opportunities for business growth also seemed to take priority compared to the previous year's results.

Raskino points out that after a significant fall last year, mentions of growth increased this year to 53%, up from 40% in 2018. "This suggests CEOs have switched their focus back to tactical performance as clouds gather on the horizon."

In terms of the potential growth territories, the CEOs mentioned geographic locations such as other cities, states, countries, regions, as well as new markets.

"It is natural to use location hunting for growth when traditional and home markets are saturated or fading," states Raskino.

"However, this year the international part of such reach is complicated and compounded by a shift in the geopolitical landscape. Twenty-three percent of CEOs see significant impacts to their own businesses arising from recent developments in tariffs, quotas and other forms of trade controls. Another 58% of CEOs have general concerns about this issue, suggesting that more CEOs anticipate it might impact their businesses in future."

Another way CEOs seem to be confronting growth prospects is to seek diversification, which means the application of digital business.

Eighty-two percent of respondents agreed they had a management initiative or transformation programme under way to make their companies more digital, up from 62% in 2018.

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