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Exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, hybrid clouds, and blockchains are not just tools for technologists running projects. They are increasingly being discussed in the boardroom as organizations move more strategically to drive their digital transformations.

Research from IBM has found that 72% of organizations plan to increase their budgets for digital transformation over the next three months, with 5% planning increases of 20% or more.

Top priorities include cybersecurity, flexibility and scalability, workflow efficiencies, and the technologies to be engaged in span cloud computing, AI/ML, robotic process automation, and remote collaboration. At least 50% of respondents to an IBM-sponsored survey nominated these technologies.

If that sounds like organizations are moving fast, they are. IBM estimates that digitalization has advanced as much in the last year as in the previous ten. There is little sign of a slowdown as organizations seek to expand into new markets and transform their business models and the customer experience.

Research by the IBM Institute of Business Value found that 60% of organizations accelerated their investments in digital technologies due to COVID-19, and more than half (55%) permanently course-corrected their organizational strategies in 2020. With operational agility and flexibility top of mind for so many business leaders, successful adoption and implementation of technologies such as cloud and AI will be central to efforts at achieving growth.

The role of the data fabric

Today’s approach to these technology implementations is evolving. While some organizations continue to look at technology on a project-by-project basis, others are looking at the issues with a more holistic and scalable lens and looking to drive process efficiencies while also leveraging technology investment.

Take the world of data, where an estimated 70% of data continues to be unused, even though organizations continue to spend the money to store it. Some organizations operate different databases for every department, which is a huge missed opportunity.

To address this challenge, leading organizations are taking an approach called data fabric, where governance and privacy are automated to comply with regulators and business rules, but the data is made available throughout the organization.

Creating an effective data fabric approach is emerging rapidly as a differentiator in driving organization performance and leveraging technology investment.

A majority of organizations today are running their applications in multiple cloud environments.  Consider that since 2019, the number of CIOs reporting adoption of hybrid cloud operations in their organizations has increased by an impressive 700%, while intelligent workflows have gone up by an almost equally striking 560%.

Banks, for example, might put as much as 60% of their applications into the cloud, but because of compliance and security, they are keeping the balance on-premises.

The typical answer to how to effectively manage applications in the cloud, and ensure their security, is that most organizations still lack confidence. And with digitalization accelerating so rapidly, many are exposing themselves more than ever before. By its very nature, digital transformation brings security risks and the danger of exposure to more attacks.

The IBV reports that 92% of organizations cannot securely enable and extend new cloud-native capabilities to their internal and external partners.

Creating a sustainable future

Sustainability is also becoming a central theme, and leading organizations are looking to “green IT” to reduce their carbon footprints.

According to the IBV, 54% of consumers say they’re willing to pay higher prices for a sustainable future.

Despite this, the IBV found that 9 out of 10 companies say they will be working on sustainability initiatives across the enterprise; another study found that 1 in 3 consumer companies are measuring their progress.

Digital transformation has a role to play here also. AI can help businesses achieve sustainability benchmarks through greater measurement, data collection, and carbon accounting, as well as through improved predictiveness and greater supply chain resiliency.

There’s a human aspect to digital transformation too. Last year was the year of the “The Great Resignation,” and the IBV found that while 30% of employees were planning to change jobs before the end of 2021, a further 15% were looking to do so in 2022.  So this is an ongoing trend.

The virtualization of work has given companies greater access to global talent, but companies will need to foster cultures that place a value on people to keep that talent.

To be truly successful, digital transformation must also be accompanied by cultural transformation.

The time for zero trust is here

Another important theme is security. C-suite executives and those who sit in the boardroom of leading organizations see security as an increasingly critical concept to get right. Gone are the days when it was an afterthought, to be patched up if something was unlucky enough to go wrong.

A Zero Trust security approach is now a priority because the right security approach also increases productivity and increases business agility.

It’s time to go beyond outmoded approaches and adopt a zero-trust attitude to security — a preventative approach that assumes malicious actors are everywhere.

Driving this, the IBV finds that organizations that integrate their cloud and security strategies more intentionally outperform peers by more than two times, both in terms of revenue growth and profitability.

As we close in on the halfway point of 2022, there’s no doubt that organizations are facing mounting challenges as they continue to digitalize.

The good news is that the technologies are at hand to make this successful if they are implemented and combined in the best way to deliver strategic advantage.