PwC’s Chris Curran on How Digital is Disrupting Your Company

A new survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that 85% of CEOs believe it’s crucial to champion the use of digital technology and 71% are actually walking the talk, a significant rise over the last couple of years. Chris Curran, chief technologist and principal in the U.S. advisory practice at PwC, looks at what this means for organizations and their technology leaders.

You may feel really good about your company, believing that your business is on the right path to growth. Then it happens – you get Ubered.

Getting Ubered means your business is attacked by a competitor using technology in a way you didn’t see coming, such as when the taxi industry was upended by the technology used by the ride-sharing service, Uber.

But according Pricewaterhouse Cooper, you can relax. Chances are good that you’re not going to get Ubered anytime soon.

That’s because just 1% of executives in a recent Global Digital IQ Survey say their No. 1 expectation for digital is to disrupt their own or other industries. Instead, 45% say the top priority is to grow revenue, followed by 25% who expect to use digital to create better customer experiences and 12% that see it boosting profits. In other words, digital is seen as a way to grow the business now, not tomorrow.

“I think that probably surprised me the most,” says Chris Curran, PwC chief technologist. “We hear all this talk about how businesses are going to get Ubered, but given all that hype there are very few saying that disruption is a priority for them.”

Instead, Curran says more companies are looking at using mergers and acquisitions as a form of disruption, such as buying other businesses that will help them to grow and optimize opportunities. At the same time, there is a sort of internal disruption as companies try to deal with how technology is used within the business – and by who.

For example, technology isn’t just the bailiwick of IT anymore; marketing is just as interested in using technology and data to capture information. Nearly a third of survey participants are sinking more than 15% of revenue into technology investments that span all areas of a business – not just IT, the survey finds.

“This is considerably higher than the single-digit spending forecasts that technology analysts typically make,” the report says.

Further, the majority of spending (68%) is now coming from budgets outside of IT’s, a significant increase from 47% the prior year.

Curran says the business focus and organizational dollars being spent on technology outside of the IT department changes the landscape for CIOs, leading to “more confusion and more disruption inside organizations.”

“There is a lot of pressure on the CIO,” he says. “There are a lot of different angles now, and they have to learn to change their mindset from control to influence. Everyone wants to be part of the technology pie.”

That’s why Curran says that if he were a CIO, he would focus on learning from outside sources, whether it was universities, venture capitalists or incubators. All can provide information so that a CIO can bring together resources and information to help the entire organization and influence strategy and future technology investments.

Some other key findings from the survey show that the traditional CIO role is changing as some companies are naming chief digital officers to lead digital transformation efforts. While about 40% of respondents say CIOs are mostly in charge of leading digital efforts currently, that is expected to dip to 35% in three years. Further, about 32% of executives say CIOs are boosting the internal focus on IT and innovation, but that’s expected to climb to 36% in three years.

“I think we still have a long way to go in fully digitizing businesses today, but there are so many more opportunities,” Curran says. “I think what this survey shows is that it is the right time, right now, for CIOs to rethink their roles going forward.”

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