Survey: ‘Digitally Mature’ Employers Have Innovation Edge

It pays to be a “digitally maturing” employer–at least when it comes to boosting innovation which, in turn, should boost the bottom line.

According to the 2019 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project, which surveyed more than 4,800 managers, executives and analysts from global organizations, as those digitally maturing companies invest more in innovation, they are achieving a critical transformation at a faster pace than early-stage companies.

The study from MIT’s Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital, in its eighth year (fifth year focusing on digital business), for example, found that 80% of respondents from digitally maturing companies say their organizations cultivate partnerships with other organizations to facilitate digital innovation. Meanwhile, digitally-developing companies only check in at 59%, while early-stage companies are way behind at 33%.

“This year’s study shows more reflection by business leaders on what innovation means and how to best achieve it,” says Deloitte Digital’s Doug Palmer, an author of the report and principal at Deloitte Consulting. “Digitally-maturing and early-stage companies alike recognize the importance of innovation. However, this year’s study shows more concrete guardrails are needed to support long-lasting models for innovation through collaboration, experimentation and ethical considerations.”

The 2019 survey also found that digitally maturing companies are not only innovating more, they’re doing it differently. For example, that group is increasingly driving innovation through collaborations–established externally through digital ecosystems and internally through cross-functional teams–for greater agility. The study reports that 83% of digitally maturing companies use cross-functional teams to innovate, compared with 55% of early-stage companies.

“We see that digitally maturing companies increasingly innovate with cross-functional teams. They’re more likely to have an agile, fail-fast, learn-fast mentality,” says Gerald Kane, guest editor at MIT SMR and professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, and an author of the report. “All organizations should be careful, though, to consider the ethical implications of their work – on business and society. We found a company’s digital innovation sometimes runs ahead of its governance.”

As innovation continues to accelerate, the study’s authors believe that digitally mature companies are considering both the social and the ethical implications of digital transformation. In fact, the study found that with greater flexibility in company structure and employee roles and responsibilities comes the need for ethical standards–something companies are increasingly considering, but not as swiftly as they evolve.

Results found that 76% of companies surveyed are implementing policies which reflect ethical considerations regarding digital innovation, compared with 43 percent of those in the early stage. And Just 35% of respondents across maturity levels say their companies are talking enough about the ethical implications of digital business or communicating the impact of their digital initiatives on society. Half (46%) of CEOs say their companies are spending enough time on ethical matters.

“This year’s study shines a light on companies across all levels of digital maturity that are starting to reflect on the big-picture impact of innovation,” says David Kiron, executive editor of MIT SMR and a report author. “More leaders are thinking deeply about the influence of new innovation models on their business operations and society at large.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]