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

  • Growing businesses are significantly more likely to be run by a tech savvy leader, have a tech proficient board and discuss tech matters on a regular basis, than businesses not predicting growth.
  • UK businesses rate themselves highly for tech maturity, but in fact discuss key technology issues far less frequently than their overseas counterparts.

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.

For more information on the new ThoughtWorks report, country-specific research findings, infographics or to arrange interviews contact:
Jim Follett / Guy Bellamy / Jemima Woods
elephant communications
07766 775216 / 07908 551571

The research surveyed over 969 C-Suite decision makers, comprising of CEOs, CIOs and CTOs across 12 countries, all markets where ThoughtWorks has a significant market presence and can provide market commentary (USA, UK, Germany, China, Australia, India, Brazil, Singapore, Italy, Romania, Finland and Netherlands) and across seven sectors. The research was carried out online by Maru/Blue.

Additional tables

Table one: Business leaders’ tech proficiency by business outlook

Total The business is growing No change / staying the same Negative growth
Fully up to date with the latest technology developments and technology is central to strategic and business thinking 65% 74% 42% 42%
Aware of the key tech trends in the industry but defer to experts to make decisions on how tech can best help the business 33% 25% 52% 55%
Behind with the pace of technology change/struggle to keep up 2% 1% 5% 3%

Table two: Management team’s technical knowledge or proficiency rated as ‘good’ by the CEO by business outlook

Total The business is growing No change / staying the same Negative growth
Digital Transformation 44% 47% 37% 41%
Enterprise modernization 31% 31% 30% 28%
Platforms 32% 34% 26% 24%
Cloud 36% 39% 29% 33%
Customer Experience 45% 46% 41% 49%
Products 41% 40% 41% 45%
Design 32% 32% 30% 29%
Data Strategy 40% 44% 32% 22%
Engineering 31% 33% 26% 30%
Analytics 36% 38% 31% 41%
None of the above 2% 1% 4% 1%

Table three: Proportion of companies discussing tech issues at board level at least monthly

Total Growing businesses Non-growing businesses
Customer experience, product and design 49% 51% 36%
Digital transformation and operations 49% 52% 38%
Enterprise modernisation, platforms and cloud 46% 49% 34%
Data strategy, engineering and analytics 47% 53% 31%

Table four. Who is talking about tech? Table showing the percentage of companies that discuss these issues at a board level on at least a monthly basis

Enterprise modernisation Digital transformation & ops Cust Exp, product & design Data Shortage of talent % of companies forecasting growth
Brazil 68% 71% 68% 66% 48% 82%
USA 52% 56% 54% 55% 47% 89%
Romania 53% 46% 49% 51% 46% 57%
Netherlands 45% 48% 46% 54% 40% 71%
India 42% 42% 51% 44% 47% 86%
UK 44% 46% 48% 49% 39% 76%
Italy 49% 47% 44% 47% 35% 62%
Germany 43% 42% 51% 43% 40% 62%
Australia 37% 57% 45% 38% 42% 65%
China 39% 48% 42% 49% 26% 73%
Singapore 37% 34% 38% 41% 32% 59%
Finland 37% 43% 33% 28% 32% 68%

Table five. Where are the most tech-proficient companies?

Business proficiency Personal proficiency
We fully use our technology advantage to win business, run efficient systems and attract the best people I keep fully up to date with the latest technology developments and technology is central to my strategic and business thinking
China 83% 70%
UK 76% 76%
USA 75% 82%
India 70% 74%
Netherlands 70% 52%
Italy 67% 68%
Brazil 66% 78%
Australia 63% 54%
Finland 62% 47%
Romania 61% 62%
Germany 53% 47%
Singapore 51% 61%

About ThoughtWorks
We are a software consultancy and community of passionate purpose-led individuals, 8,000+ people strong across 48 offices in 17 countries. Over our 25+ year history, we have helped our clients solve complex business problems where technology is the differentiator. When the only constant is change, we prepare you for the unpredictable.

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