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ibm-top-external-biz-factors-may2012.pngForget globalization, geopolitics, even the economy. The majority of CEOs believe that the external force that will have the greatest impact on their organizations over the next 3-5 years is technological change, according to an IBM survey [download page] of more than 1700 CEOs globally, released in May 2012. 71% cited technology factors as critical, putting it at the top of the list, slightly ahead of people skills (69%), market factors (68%), and other broad issues such as macro-economic factors, regulatory concerns, and globalization. In years past, market factors had been the steady favorite, while technology has ascended the ranks from the #6 issue in 2004.

While CEOs see the massive disruptive potential of technology, many consumers worldwide worry about downsides: for example, according to a Euro RSCG Worldwide survey released in April 2012, roughly 3 in 5 of the more than 7,000 respondents said they were concerned about society’s addiction to or over-reliance on technology, with a majority also reporting concern about technology overload. Even so, despite these concerns, most believe that digital technology will improve their lives.

Human Capital Key to Sustaining Value

Meanwhile, when it comes to factors critical to sustaining economic value, CEOs place technology further down the list, preferring to focus more on connectedness. Human capital (71%) was the most popular factor cited by the IBM survey respondents, ahead of customer relationships (66%), product/services innovation (52%), and brand(s), at 43%. Despite the buzz about big data, just one-quarter cited data access or data-driven insights as key to organizational differentiation. 3 in 10 said the same about technology.

Outperformers Talk Openness

Data from IBM’s “Leading Through Connections” indicates that organizations that surpass industry peers, in terms of revenue growth and profitability, are recognizing the internal value of an open corporate culture that empowers individuals to facilitate innovation, collaboration, and creativity. CEOs from these organizations were 37% more likely to say that their organizations would be impacted by the pressure to be open than by the need to maintain tight operational control (48% vs. 35%). Underperformers were also more likely to be swayed by the need for an open culture, but by a lesser margin (37% vs. 33%).

Collaborative, Communicative Employees Most Preferred

The open corporate culture these CEOs are striving for will necessitate employees who, rather than possess specific skill sets, have more unconventional traits. Indeed, CEOs were most apt to cite employee traits such as collaborative (75%), communicative (67%), creative (61%), and flexible (61%) as critical to employees’ future success. Analytical/quantitative (50%) and technology-savvy (41%) were preferred by relatively fewer.

About the Data: The IBM data is based on face to face interviews with 1,709 CEOs and senior public sector leaders conducted between September 2011 and January 2012. The CEOs lead organizations of different sizes in 64 countries and 18 industries. 68% are in mature markets and 52% lead global or multinational organizations.

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