by Mark Raskino

Last year, our CEO survey showed that digital and IT was 4th in chief executives business priorities – up from 11th place in 2013. I have no doubt, this represents the highest visibility for technology among CEOs for over a decade. The key question is – will it persist?  I’m working on our latest CEO survey data right now – to be published in April.  When I have the responses analysed it will provide a good indication.

My best guess at this stage is that Board and CEO attention on digital business related growth ideas will remain high during 2015 but then I suspect it will start to fade.  The current level of intense interest is unlikely to sustain indefinitely. Something else will steal CEO’s focus. However I do not think we will see the kind of sudden fallout and backlash that came after the e-business wave.  For those who remember 2002-2003,  technology spending was cut and board rooms readily accepted Nicholas Carr’s premise that “IT doesn’t matter”.  Instead they turned to BRICS and cheap consumer credit to fuel business growth strategies – leaving the idea of information technology as a primary competitive weapon, on the sidelines for almost a decade.

Right now, its hard to see a bigger strategic growth vector than technology. But business leaders will always take the shortest, easiest path to growth. Technology is quite complex and intimidating to many business leaders. Technologists also have a habit of saying that everything will change and business returns will come quickly – when they won’t.  Already  ideas like drone delivery, 3D printed everything, self-driving cars and intelligent systems are common, water-cooler discussion subjects in business. Yet all of them are at the very least 5 years away – probably much longer, at scale. Mind that gap!  The same thing happened in the late 1990s when technology protagonists (myself included) talked-up the mobile app-like future.. approximately a decade too early.  We get carried away. When we do that, business leaders lose patience and punish us.

Entrepreneurial style information technologists were placed into some kind of corporate “sin bin” between 2003 and 2009  (then the recession took the focus). We have only fully reemerged since 2011/12. Right now we look like we have all the answers for future growth – product innovation, business model innovation and all the rest.  But we could so easily over-reach and fall flat on our faces again – and then CEOs will want to look elsewhere. So far, there hasn’t been a strong alternative growth leading mechanism, like  emerging markets or a credit boom for CEOs to switch to. But it will come sooner or later.  A sustained, low oil price might already be that opportunity for some.

So what should you do?  Behave as if 2015 is the year of peak digital. Make the most of it. The next winter may be a long way off – but don’t waste the sunshine while it lasts.
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Gartner, Inc