Article

To make better decisions, CEOs need better digital platforms

Most senior execs already benefit from data-based decision-making. CEOs need to catch up.

A large percentage of CEOs lack insight into their organization’s performance because they continue to rely on manual processes to access and analyze business data.

From customer purchases to C-level budget approvals, 40% of all organizational workflows today are now digital, and 36% of the data they generate are integrated through a single digital platform, according to a new survey conducted by ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow. However, more than half of CEOs still access data using standard tools like dashboards, and 45% rely on manually prepared reports on spreadsheets.

That raises an important question: If chief executives can’t easily access performance reports and consider new questions for automated processes to evaluate, how can they lead a successful, resilient enterprise?

“These technologies make for faster, more data-based decisions than organizations could make without them,” says Tom Davenport, professor of IT and management at Babson College. “That means better decisions, because data-based decisions are generally more accurate than those based on experience or intuition.”

Consider the challenge of capturing value from marketing campaign data across multiple social media platforms days after they launch. Robotic process automation (RPA) and other tools that power modern analytics can help companies sidestep spreadsheets to reallocate and retarget their social budgets on the fly.

Nearly half of non-CEO executives credit AI and RPA-driven data with improving their decision-making. Yet only one-fourth of CEOs currently say the same.

The data divide

The data becomes even more worrisome for CEOs whose organizations lag rivals in adopting enterprise digital platforms. At digital leader organizations, CEOs far outpace their counterparts as followers when it comes to using advanced analytics tools, such as AI and RPA.

  • CEOs who use RPA-enhanced platforms
    Leaders: 67%
    Followers: 38%
  • CEOs who use AI analytics platforms
    Leaders: 56%
    Followers: 35%

That opportunity gap with analytics has broader implications: The most digitally mature organizations, according to the survey, report greater customer satisfaction and retention. They’re also growing revenue and market share at higher rates than their competitors. One reason for the increasing competitive edge? Digital leaders are successfully using AI to track competitors.

[Read also: Most CEOs are slow to digitize. Here’s why they need to act now.]

“With natural language processing, image recognition, and video annotation, you can use AI to find patterns across unstructured data sources,” says Richard Wendell, CEO of biomedical technology company Tellic. “AI can crawl the newswire and social media to find competitive signals from data sources that companies were typically not able to leverage before.”

Gleaning insights from competitors’ strategic moves in near-real time is a valuable capability. But that doesn’t mean that executive decision-making will become all science, no art any time soon.

“AI is well-suited to tactical, structured decisions that rely on lots of data,” says Davenport. “But innovation, rethinking business models and global expansion decisions are typically less structured, so they will always involve deeper human exploration.”

CEOs should take note: AI will always have its limits, but early evidence shows that these new forms of business intelligence may soon be invaluable for chief executives to hold on to their jobs.

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