Sunday, 24th January 2021

AI/Automation fails to make the New Year’s wish list for businesses

Despite media buzz and high board-level interest in these topics, AI/automation and Internet of Things (IoT) are currently the least important topics for IT leaders heading into 2021.

GDS Group, the global events, research and technology services company, has published the results of independent research into the top technology trends that concern business leaders heading into 2021. According to senior leaders at the 300+ global companies polled on behalf of Meet the Boss, the virtual roundtable platform and subsidiary brand of GDS Group, cyber security remains their top priority, and the area where leaders feel their knowledge is most lacking. However, despite strong media attention, AI/Automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the least important topics for IT leaders right now, despite AI/Automation being classified by board-level respondents as a very high priority.

In its inaugural Business Technology Barometer survey, GDS sought to understand the topics that business leaders are most concerned with as they enter 2021, how knowledgeable they feel they are on these topics, and how they prefer to expand their knowledge. The report anonymously polled over 300 Meet the Boss event delegates – all senior leaders (VP/Directors and above) from major global enterprises, of which 150 were IT leaders specifically. The research was independently conducted and analysed by Boost Evaluation Limited.

IT leaders most concerned with lack of knowledge around IT security

The survey asked those in technology leadership roles, “Please rate how relevant / important these hot topics are to your role” and asked respondents to give an importance score out of ten. Cyber Security achieved the highest score of 9.0, closely followed by Cloud Strategy (8.5) and Digital Transformation (8.4). What was a surprise, however, was that Internet of Things (IoT) and AI/Automation received the lowest scores (5.0 and 7.5 respectively).

In order to reveal any knowledge gaps that might exist, respondents were then asked, “Rate your knowledge level on the following topics”. The biggest gap between the relevance/importance of a topic and the level of knowledge felt by respondents was revealed in cyber security, with an importance score of 9.0 and knowledge of just 7.2.

As part of the survey, GDS also asked 37 board level contacts what topics they said were the most important to them. In contrast to technology leaders, they rated AI/Automation as one of the most important topics with an extremely high score of 8.0/10.0, indicating a disconnect in priorities down the chain of command.


Business leaders are keen to learn and don’t mind how they do it

The research demonstrated that business leaders have a real hunger for knowledge on most topics and are very flexible with how they approach their learning. While there is a small preference for face-to-face learning, they are equally at home learning from digital content, digital training courses and virtual conferences and roundtables.

The survey asked, “Please rate how useful the following are in helping you learn about hot topics.” There was no mode of learning that stood out as a clear winner.

Face to face training and digital content got the highest average scores (7.7 and 7.4), despite these being polar opposites in terms of investment (time and money) and degree of interactivity. Second equal were digital training courses, which strike a balance between ease of attendance and interactivity, written content, which allows self-paced learning, and virtual round tables which achieve high levels of human interaction with only a small investment of time involved.

Methods of learning which require little investment of time and money received the same scores as methods which were extremely expensive and time-consuming.


Spencer Green, founder and chairman of GDS comments on the results, “Despite all the media buzz, we were surprised to see that AI/automation is not currently a top priority for technology leaders. However, as a relatively new trend, we expect it will climb the ranks as we see more evidence of its ability to transform businesses. The high interest we found among board level contacts in AI/automation provides another indication that this will become a key trend. While interest in cyber security, data, cloud and digital transformation remain as high as ever, so it is vital for us to help our clients to inform and educate business leaders in these areas.”

“As we commence a new year, technology remains an ever-changing landscape and it is great to see that its leaders accept the fact that they have significant knowledge gaps and have identified a range of ways to acquire knowledge, which suit all different learning preferences.”

“Overall, they have little preference for one method over another; they are simply eager to learn. Leaders know that those who adapt to the challenges that come their way will prosper, so it is inspiring to see them leading by example here.”

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