The consulting firm’s senior managing director speaks to the Toronto Region Board of Trade about the promise and perils of digital technologies

CIOs alone will not be able to address the apparent overconfidence in the Canadian economy and the use of digital technologies, a senior executive from consulting firm Accenture told a recent gathering of local business leaders in Toronto.

Quoting from its recently published research study, CEO Briefing 2014 – The Global Agenda: Competing in a Digital World, Accenture Canada senior managing director Michael Denham told the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) nine out of 10 executives expressed optimism about their own organization. More than half, or 51 percent, said their investments in digital technologies are focused on accelerating growth versus achieving efficiencies.

Despite the positive numbers, Denham suggested that business executives in Canada may be in for a rude wake-up call.

“The impression that emerges from the research is one of confidence: Canadian executives feel confident about their position in the digital world. They feel that they are at or near the forefront of digital innovation,” he said. “We are not convinced. In fact, we are concerned. What we’ve found in our research is something we’ve taken to calling an ‘optimism gap.’”

Denham pointed out that entire industries have been negatively affected by so-called disruptive digital technologies, such as GPS hardware makers who were blindsided by smartphone apps that offer virtually the same functionality. Other examples included Amazon and its use of e-commerce to compete with retailers or, in some cases, put them out of business entirely.

In order to properly assess customers’ future needs and the sudden changes affecting their industry, Denham insisted digital strategies must begin with the most senior leaders in the organization.

“This is not the kind of high-level strategy that stops with the CIO. It must originate and be directed from the office of the chief executive, to ensure maximum buy-in across the whole of the company,” he said. “Believing in technology is not the same thing as taking advantage of it.”

Accenture’s outlook is in stark contrast with the view of Canadian businesses, who see technology executives owning the digital piece. According to its survey, 35 percent see the CIO as leading digital initiatives and 27 percent cited the CTO.

And while many firms may not see themselves on the level of well-known consumer tech companies, the comparisons may be inevitable.

“This is changing people’s expectations. They’ve shopped with Amazon. They’ve bought products from Apple. They know how swift and efficient the process can be,” he said. “And they have very little patience for companies who can’t offer something similar. These companies are now our frame of reference.”
Are CEOs ready to take on the digital agenda? How does this affect the role of CIOs? Offer your feedback in the comments below.

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