Gartner Blog Network

Are CEOs serious about d-business in 2014, or still stuck talking e-business circa 2004?

by Peter Sondergaard  |  April 29, 2014  |  5 Comments

Every company is becoming a technology company. This is the message I take away each time I meet a CEO or senior business executive to discuss their strategy for growth. It’s the direction that every leading organization, business and government agency is evolving toward. I’m seeing a shift from the old e-business to a new digital business, or d-business, mindset, where leaders no longer simply utilize technology to deliver efficiency and improve functionality, but digitally reimagine every aspect of the enterprise, from product and service creation, to production and delivery.

We decided to dig deeper and look beyond the conversations I’m having with CEOs to determine the broader nature of this trend. Our logic is that if this is indeed true, if organizations are increasingly moving to a d-business mindset, then surely their public statements will talk about digitalization in some way. Their annual reports should contain some degree of detail on initiatives regarding digitalization from a competitive perspective, how business opportunity is being created from digitalized processes and value chains, and how new business models and digitalized products and services are driving growth.

So we read the 2013 reports of 25 randomly selected companies from the global top 500 to look for indications of their focus on d-business. And, I suppose both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, we found very little about d-business at all. Here’s what we found

  • 15 of the 25 companies have no mention of technology, IT or digitalization in their annual reports. They do have a standard mention of IT systems in the risk section — but this appears in every annual report.
  • The 10 companies that do mention technology, digitalization, Internet of Things or big data in their annual report are in the financial services industry, communication service providers or outliers in their industry.
  • When companies do mention digitalization, it’s in the chairman’s and/or CEO’s message. But it’s always toward the end of the message and ranked lower than all other areas of focus.

We were surprised because the shift to d-business appears to be across all industries, so we expected to see at least some mention of it in the majority of annual reports. On the flip side, we were not that surprised because we accept that annual reports tend to be conservative and backward-looking, typically not revealing information that is truly strategic.

So because annual reports are lagging indicators that don’t point to a future necessarily characterized by d-business, we decided to look at two Gartner surveys that focus more on emerging trends.

First, Mark Raskino and I both recently wrote about our annual CEO Survey, research that Mark leads. Mark found that CEOs are indeed more focused on technology but still lagging in their understanding of d-business. As Mark states, CEOs think e-business circa 2004, not d-business 2014. So at a high level, our CEO survey results suggest a continued need for CEOs to be more engaged in how digitalization can fundamentally change their business.

Secondly, in the Gartner benchmark business, we have performed over 250 digital benchmarks. One of the key questions we asked all participating organizations about is their ability to execute and their completeness of vision today and in 18 months in terms of moving to d-business. The data suggests a significant change is expected in the next 18 months that will far outstrip the existing capabilities of their organizations. It’s clear to us that organizations are overoptimistic about how fast they can achieve business change. They do not have the skills and change management culture to make such a leap. This is squarely an issue for CEOs, who need to step up to provide direction on d-business.

So Gartner research recommends that CEOs and boards do three things.

First, they need to be explicit about the business opportunity technology (not just information technology) presents. If they are serious, then investors need to know. If they want to capture the opportunities that exist, they need the public — their customers — to know. They need to make this explicit in their annual reports.

Secondly, they need to focus on developing the digital skills of their organization. They need to start today. Change management for d-business needs to happen now. Ensuring the right management skills exist in the organization is critical.

Lastly, pilot, and pilot now. D-business is a journey. Starting is important! And starting is not e-business of 2004. D-business of 2014 requires entirely new digital product development, new digital service approaches and reassessing where digital technology can integrate the entire value chain.


Peter Sondergaard
Former Executive Vice President, Research & Advisory
25 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Peter Sondergaard was an executive vice president and member of Gartner’s operating committee. He led the company’s Research & Advisory organization until August 2018.

Thoughts on Are CEOs serious about d-business in 2014, or still stuck talking e-business circa 2004?

  1. Successful change management for Digital Transformation is possible if the the prospects can see the added value in integrating the digital technology; which can streamline the business processes without interruptions to services. This requires change mangement of culture as well as providing the necessary skills through a pilot program or a plan to provide additional support in the initial phase of deployment. ROI or Opex are additional factors that are customer driven that can delay adoption.

  2. Kim Andersen says:

    Hi Peter,

    A very interesting blog and I could not agree more. Most companies are though looking for advice from the industry and I do today see a very deep technical “advice” being given to companies and not enough of advice is being offered in the “long value-chain using technology”.

    May the D-business at last make a serious impact.

  3. Sivuyise says:

    So true especially if you look at the role of CIOs whereby they are required to be mire the information officer rather sustainability, growth and innovation officers.

  4. […] ← Are CEOs serious about d-business in 2014, or still stuck talking e-business circa 2004? […]

  5. […] should a CEO start with d-business? It sounds sort of obvious, but start at the beginning; define exactly what you mean by […]

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.