PwC’s 22nd Global CEO Survey: The gap holding chief executives back

Key takeaways

  • CEOs still don’t have what they need in terms of data and the ability to make business decisions.
  • 55% of CEOs ‘extremely concerned’ about the availability of key skills are not able to innovate effectively.
  • Chief executives believe AI will change the world, but so far many aren’t capitalising on it.

In 2009, the Nokia 5230 was the top selling smartphone in the world. Windows 7 was just starting to grace screens. iPads were but a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.

Considering the tech progress of the last ten years, it’s surprising that CEOs, as evident in PwC’s 22nd Global CEO Survey, still don’t have the information they need to make business decisions. The gap between ‘need’ and ‘have’ hasn’t changed in the past decade.

The survey, which this year polled 1378 chief executives in more than 90 territories, found that CEOs believe they lack the talent needed to make use of data. This is a significant problem, because the majority also agree that technology such as artificial intelligence, which relies on robust data, will completely transform the business world in coming years.

The information gap

By their own admission, CEOs are struggling with better decision-making due to a lack of adequate data. Whether to do with interpreting, collecting or cleaning data, CEOs say a lack of talent is the primary reason for its inadequacy.

Surprisingly, this story isn’t new. Despite advances in technology since, when asked in the CEO Survey of 2009 about the importance and comprehensiveness of datasets, leaders gave much the same responses today as then. While the ranking of their importance has changed slightly, the top five most valuable datasets have remained almost the same: customer preferences/needs, financial forecasts, brand and reputation, business risk and employee views/needs.

It could be argued that expectations for data use and usefulness have risen alongside technological advancement, keeping the information gap open, but CEOs don’t see it that way. They report a lack of analytical talent (54%), data siloing (51%) and poor data reliability (50%) as the culprits at fault.

The need to narrow to grow

The impact of such pain points is only expected to grow in the need for data insight. Fifty-five percent of CEOs that are ‘extremely concerned’ about the availability of key skills are not able to innovate effectively as a result of skills gaps; and 52% of them are impacted by rising people costs.

Not only will this have an impact on growth prospects for business in the short term, in the long term, it could lead to far graver consequences. Of those surveyed, 85% agree that AI will change the way they do business in the next five years.

With AI being such a monumental catalyst for transformation it will be critical for business to be across its use, capitalising on its promise. Yet, almost a quarter of CEOs have no plans to use AI at the moment and only 35% have plans to do so in the next three years.

Why? Because, “without access to the expert skills necessary to organise and extract value from their data, organisations are unable to move aggressively forward on AI; it would be putting the cart before the horse.”

Close up the gap or close up the shop

PwC's CEO Survey

But it is easier said than done, and requires both time and money. The reality of upskilling employees is not as simple as ‘more training’. Government and business will need to work together as new technologies, such as AI, lead to changes in workforce needs.

Cultures of adaptability and lifelong learning, in both society and business, must be nurtured alongside increasing technological proficiency in STEM skills. While these skills will be needed for the high technology aspects of business – as seen in the results of this year’s survey – soft skills too, such as empathy and creativity will become more important both to business and people’s enjoyment of their working lives.

CEO outlook

The overall results of the CEO Survey this year were cautious. With political and economic changes creating uncertainty, the optimism from last year was replaced with pessimism. While much of the caution and expectation of a decline in global growth has been due to factors outside of CEO control, dissatisfaction with information should not continue to be one of them.

Bridging gaps in capability, including those to do with data, is achievable for business. Unlike the tumultuous nature of the global geopolitical future, the use of AI, and the growth opportunities it will bring, is certain.

For the full report, including findings on CEO uncertainty in the current political climate and its impact on growth, visit the PwC 22nd Global CEO Survey.