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CEO survey: race is on for innovation, may the best IT win

Many business leaders say IT kept the wolves away from their doors during the recession. Now, a new PriceWaterhouseCooper survey finds, they see IT as a growth engine for new innovation.

A couple of years ago, many companies were holding on for life, hoping to at least break even against a financial hurricane. To a large extent, information technology played an important part to increase their chances for survival. In some surveys, business leaders credited IT as their lifeline.

Now, business leaders are now in a race to see who can achieve the most innovation, and they're looking to IT again as the vehicle to move things forward.

The latest survey of 1,201 CEOs from across the globe finds great expectations of a revived period of economic growth ahead. The survey, conducted and published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), finds business leaders are nearly as confident in their outlook for revenue growth over the coming 12 months as in the boom years before the financial crisis. The rise in short-term confidence holds true among CEOs from all regions. Confidence in business conditions peaked at 52% in 2007, dropped to 21% by 2009, and has jumped back to 48% in the most recent survey.

Close to 70% are investing in IT to reduce costs and become more efficient, while 54% are also funneling funds towards growth initiatives, including emerging technologies in mobile devices, social media and data analytics. Also high on business leaders’ agendas is cloud computing.

There are implications for both reaching out to customers, as well as supply chain partners. Close to half of consumer-facing CEOs in the survey foresee social media and mobile devices prompting a ‘significant change’ to their strategy, as consumers turn to these media to voice their preferences, the survey says.

The PwC report describes the current situation as a “multi-speed recovery.” It’s occurring at different paces across different regions, and with different challenges. As economic worries recede to the back burner, new priorities now occupy the business leaders’ agendas: driving innovation, and finding the right talent to drive that innovation.

While a talent shortage may appear to contradict the large pools of unemployment seen across the globe, the PwC survey says the lack of the right talent may hinder innovation and growth across many regions:

“Hiring the best workers amounts to nothing if the firm can’t retain top talent in hypercompetitive talent markets. In high growth markets such as China, India and parts of Latin America, talent shortages are as critical as – and in some cases more acute than – the rest of the world. Businesses looking to double or triple revenue in five years in emerging markets, for example, and anticipating equivalent growth in their workforces, find that the availability of talent is often their biggest constraint.”

Close to a third of respondents (31%) say they will be focusing on “strategies for managing talent” over the next few years, making this the leading priority, over investment decisions (28%), organizational structure (27%), and managing risk (23%).

Since 2007, PwC reports, business leaders have consistently reported that their single best opportunity for growth lay in better penetration of their existing markets. Now, enabling innovation for new products and services ranks just as high as a growth driver.

Key to moving innovation forward are Information technology, green sustainable development, and collaboration outside the organization:

  • Green, sustainable development is seen as an important part of companies’ innovation strategies, the survey finds. Sixty-four percent of respondents say a key element of their innovation strategy “is to develop products or services that are environmentally friendly.”
  • Business leaders are more likely to be reaching outside the organization for new ideas and approaches. Thirty-nine percent of CEOs say they expect the majority of their innovation “to be co-developed with partners outside of our organization.”