Survey: CEOs See Competitive Advantage in Technology, Not People

Two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed by Korn Ferry report they see technology, not their workforce, as their greatest future competitive advantage.

The survey of 800 business leaders of multi-million and multi-billion companies, including leaders in the oil and gas sector, found that:

  • 63 percent of CEOs said that, in five years, technology will be the firm’s greatest source of competitive advantage
  • 67 percent say that technology will create greater value in the future than people will
  • 44 percent said the prevalence of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence will make people “largely irrelevant” in the future of work

When asked to rank their organization’s top five assets five years from now, CEOs did not list their workforces. Instead, technology ranked first, followed by research and development/innovation; product/service, brand; and real estate such as offices, factories and land.

Technology has become so central to CEOs’ thinking and execution that it occupies 40 percent to 60 percent of their priorities on strategic focus, financial investment and C-suite time, Korn Ferry, a global people and organizational advisory firm, said in a Nov. 29 press statement.

One possible reason CEOs are so focused on technology is shareholder pressure. Forty percent of the CEOs surveyed said they had experienced this pressure to focus investment towards tangible assets such as technology, Korn Ferry said.

“Leaders may be facing what experts call a tangibility bias,” said Jean-Marc Laouchez, global managing director for solutions at Korn Ferry, in the press release. “Facing uncertainty, they are putting priority in their thinking, planning and execution on the tangible – what they can see, touch and measure, such as technology investments. Putting an exact value on people is much more difficult, even though people directly influence the value of technology, innovation and products.”

While technology will play a critical role in the future workforce, people are not going away altogether, Alan Guarino, vice chairman, CEO and board services with Korn Ferry, stated in the release.

“Soft skills such as the ability to lead and manage culture will become critical factors of success for companies in the future of work as they seek to maximize their value through their people,” Guarino commented.

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has become more focused on digital technology to enhance the efficiency and productivity of their operations. The oil price downturn has prompted oil and gas companies to look to technology to reduce costs. But rather than replacing human workers, the growth of automation and digitalization is expected to create new job opportunities in the oil and gas sector.

Robotics and cognitive/artificial intelligence processing are two areas where oil and gas companies are expected to invest in, according to IDC Energy Insights’s 2017 Top 10 Predictions for Worldwide Oil & Gas. By 2020, 25 percent of new underwater submersibles will be semiautonomous, and 10 percent of new drilling rigs will move themselves to the next site, with both adding “intelligence” in the future. Eighty percent of large oil and gas companies, also by 2020, will run their business with help from a cognitive/artificial intelligence agent capable of learning, reasoning, and solving complex problems.


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