A new IBM study of global C-Suite executives revealed that nearly six in ten organisations have accelerated their digital transformations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 66 per cent of executives said they have completed initiatives that previously encountered resistance. In India, 55 per cent of Indian executives plan to increase their prioritisation of digital transformation efforts over the next two years.

The IBM Institute for Business Value study “COVID-19 and the Future of Business,” includes input from more than 3,800 C-Suite executives in 20 countries and 22 industries, including 172 executives from India.

During the pandemic, traditional and perceived barriers to digital transformation like technology immaturity and employee opposition to change have fallen away. Now, executives see organisational complexity, inadequate skills and employee burnout as the biggest hurdles to overcome — both today and in the next two years.

The study shows that over the next two years, most executives plan to focus on internal and operational capabilities, such as increasing prioritisation of workforce skills and flexibility – critical areas to address in order to jumpstart progress.

Commenting on the development, Kamal Singhani, Country Managing Partner, Global Business Services, IBM India/South Asia, said, “In the last few months, we have witnessed year-long digital transformation and adaption compressed into weeks. Companies in every industry have been encouraged to initiate digitisation measures, propelled by the infusion of automation and AI, and look forward to building cognitive enterprises of the future. Looking ahead, I believe that our focus on Cloud & AI is going to be our competitive advantage as we propel our clients and businesses to achieve this vision while they quickly recover and sustain their path to growth, business continuity and resilience.”

The study reveals three proactive steps that emerging leaders are taking to survive and thrive:

1.Improving operational scalability and flexibility

The report reveals that the majority of organisations are making permanent changes to their organisational strategy. For instance, 94 percent of global executives plan to participate in platform-based business models by 2022, and many will increase participation in ecosystems and partner networks. Executing these new strategies will require a more scalable and flexible IT infrastructure like hybrid cloud in India. Only eleven percent of executives in India are highly prioritising operational scalability today, but that number will grow to 41 per cent over the next two years.

2.Applying AI, automation and other exponential technologies to make workflows more intelligent

Technologies like AI, automation and cybersecurity can make workflows more intelligent, responsive and secure – and they are increasing in priority across the board for global executives. Over the next two years, executives in India report that they have plans to increasingly apply automation across all business functions. Big jumps are expected in procurement (2x), risk (2x), supply chain (2.3x) and R&D (3.1x) in the next two years. As executives increasingly invest in cloud, AI, automation and other exponential technologies, IBM recommends leaders should keep in mind the users of that technology – their people. These digital tools should enable a positive employee experience by design, and support people’s innovation and productivity.

3.Leading, engaging and enabling the workforce in new ways

The study showed placing a renewed focus on people may be critical amid the COVID-19 pandemic while many employees are working outside of traditional offices and dealing with heightened personal stress and uncertainty. Ongoing IBV consumer research has shown that the expectations employees have of their employers have shifted amidst the pandemic – employees now expect that their employers will take an active role in supporting their physical and emotional health as well as the skills they need to work in new ways. 74 per cent of Indian executives surveyed believe they have been helping their employees learn the skills needed to work in a new way, just 38 per cent of employees surveyed agree. 85 per cent of Indian executives surveyed say that they are supporting the physical and emotional health of their workforce, while just 46 per cent of employees surveyed feel that support.

More than two-thirds of executives globally said they will prioritise establishing remote work over the next two years as an option for their employees to ensure employee health, productivity and motivation.

However, in two years’ time, they believe only about a quarter of their employees will be enabled to work remotely, about twice as many as two years ago. Executives in industries like education, insurance, banking, financial markets and information technology (IT) services have the highest percentages expected to be working remotely in two years.

Around one percent of Indian executives said they highly prioritised workforce safety and security, crisis management or enterprise agility, two years ago. Today, those numbers have more than tripled in each category, and in two years there will be an even more significant shift, with 60 per cent highly prioritising workforce safety and security, 42 per cent crisis management and 49 per cent enterprise agility in the next 2 years.


India Insights | COVID-19 & Future of Business C-Suite Survey

Digital Transformation:

55 per cent of Indian executives shared that digital transformation is increasing in priority from today to in 2 years.


Indian executives plan to increase their prioritisation of operational scalability from 11 per cent today to 41 per cent in next two years, an increase of 30 percentage points. 56 per cent of executives are prioritising cloud today and in next 2 years 81 per cent of them are set to prioritise cloud, an increase of 25 percentage points.


Indian executives plan to increase prioritising AI from 34 per cent today to 59 per cent in next 2 years, a 25 percentage point increase.

Cyber Security:

71 per cent of executives in India plan to prioritise cyber-security in the next two years.

Employee health and well-being:

2 years ago, only 1 per cent of Indian executives prioritised workplace safety and security. Today, that number is 21 per cent and in 2 years, will be 60 per cent.

2 years ago, only 3 per cent of Indian executives provided employees access to mental health resources. In 2 years, 41 per cent of executives plan to provide access to mental health resources.

Employee Skilling:

74 per cent of Indian executives believe they are helping their employees learn the skills needed to work in a new way, and 85 per cent of Indian executives say that they are supporting the physical and emotional health of their workforce.