Focus on talent, technology and partnerships – keys to thrive post-COVID-19 pandemic, CEOs believe


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A new IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study revealed a top challenge for many global surveyed CEOs over the next few years is managing an “anywhere” workforce. Outperforming CEOs – whose organizations were in the top 20% for revenue growth of those surveyed – are prioritizing talent, technology and partners to position their companies for success post-COVID-19 pandemic.

The study polled 3,000 CEOs across 26 industries and nearly 50 countries including Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Russia. It was conducted in cooperation with Oxford Economics and benchmarked against more than 20 years of IBM’s annual CEO surveys.

Many surveyed CEOs from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) highlighted technology infrastructure and market shifts as key elements which will create the greatest challenges for their organization over the next 2-3 years. In addition, 62 % of them see technology and 43 % of them regulation as top external forces that will affect their business in years to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged many leaders to reinvent and accelerate their digitalization strategies,” said Wolfgang Wendt, General Manager, IBM Central and Eastern Europe. „ The study shows that CEOs from CEE and other parts of the world largely think alike when it comes to naming four advanced technologies – Intenet of Things, Hybrid Cloud, AI and Automation – that will make their businesses smarter, faster and more resilient in the face of changes that the pandemic has brought across all industries.”

“In the wake of COVID-19, many companies around the world had to accelerate their digitalization and, regardless of the industry, to leverage technology in order to ensure their business continuity. We believe that, even beyond the challenges of the current pandemic, digitalization is a new way of doing business that can trigger important cost and time savings for our clients as well as new opportunities. Therefore, at UniCredit Bank in Romania, digital transformation is a strategic direction, and we have the ambition to be a top player in the digital banking area, in line with the multi-channel approach across the Group, and to offer our clients with banking products that really matter to them. We are successfully collaborating with IBM on different digitalization projects where innovation and security are at the heart of our initiatives”., said Carlo Driussi, Head of GBS UniCredit Bank Romania, Romania.

Choosing flexible and scalable technology foundations

Across the board surveyed CEOs globally said Cloud, AI, IoT and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) were the top technologies that will deliver benefits for their business in the next few years. In CEE, 83% of CEOs confirmed IoT will deliver the most benefits, followed by Cloud, AI and RPA.

Global outperforming CEOs surveyed said technology foundations were top challenge at double the rate of underperformers, recognizing it’s important to be ahead of the curve with emerging tech — as technology evolves, so must its foundation.

Global outperformers expect AI to deliver results in the next two to three years, at more than double the rate of underperformers. IBM’s thesis is that these leaders may be further ahead than their peers at embedding AI at scale in their organizations — putting AI at the heart of their intelligent workflows vs. one off or unconnected pilot projects.

Built on a hybrid cloud infrastructure, technologies like AI, IoT and automation can make the essential processes at the core of businesses (supply chain, finance, HR, procurement) more responsive and intelligent – enabling greater effectiveness and efficiency in an ever-changing business environment and delivering more real-time insights across functional siloes.

Betting on their people

IBM’s annual study found the majority of CEOs surveyed reported empowering a remote workforce was their top priority during 2020. Half of global outperforming company CEOs surveyed said managing a remote “anywhere” workforce is a top leadership challenge over the next few years, compared to 25% of underperformers, companies in the bottom 20 percent for revenue growth of those surveyed. More than half of surveyed leaders in the Central and Eastern Europe named empowering a remote workforce a critical challenge in 2020.

In addition, 77% of global outperforming CEOs reported they will prioritize employee well-being even if it affects short-term business results, compared to 39% of underperformers, reflecting that the surveyed leaders of top organizations are heavily focused on their people in this moment.

A related IBM global consumer survey showed one in four employees reported they are planning to change employers in 2021, citing the need for a more flexible work schedule or location as a top reason why.

Partnering to win with open innovation

Outperforming company CEOs are also more focused on partnerships, according to the IBV study. 63% of outperformers said partnerships have become more important for driving business performance; only about half as many underperformers said the same. Based on the results of this study, IBM’s thesis is that outperforming company CEOs are narrowing their focus to what they do best and relying on partners and ecosystems for access to broader ideas and innovation opportunities.

In addition, IBM notes that as many leaders increasingly see how their organizations can help address interconnected global issues like climate change, ecosystems can play a pivotal role in driving lasting change.

The IBV study includes recommendations from IBM for how leaders can seize this moment to reset and focus on what may be essential for success: choosing flexible and scalable technology platforms like an open hybrid cloud, investing in the holistic well-being of their people, and partnering to win with an open innovation approach.


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