The Customer-activated Enterprise

Insights from the Global C-suite Study

Ten years, 17 studies and 23,000 face-to-face executive interviews have given us rich insights into how private and public sector leaders think. “The Customer-activated Enterprise” is our first simultaneous study of the entire C-suite.



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Get the IBM C-suite Study

The IBM C-suite Study is a result of analyzing our conversations with 4,183 leaders in 70 countries. We spoke with a cross-section of C-suite executives in more than 20 industries: Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs), Chief Information Officers (CIOs), Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs).

This Study offers insight into how these leaders view the world, their priorities and how they are preparing for the future. Three major themes emerged. Today’s C-suite must:

Open up to customer influence

In an era of abundant connectivity, endless information and ubiquitous digitization, the new economic equation favors transparency. More than half of CxOs expect to open up their enterprises – bringing down barriers to extend collaboration inside and outside. Their most radical shift may be a new view on what it means to collaborate with customers.

In fact, CEOs told us that customers come second only to the C-suite in terms of the strategic influence they wield. When asked, “Who has the most influence on your strategic vision and business strategy?” 55 percent of interviewed CEOs cited customers.

Voice on the board: Key influencers on business strategy

Pioneer digital-physical innovation

The emergence of social, mobile and digital networks has played a big part in democratizing the relationship between organizations and their customers. It’s also forcing them to rethink how they work. The intersection between the digital and physical is the leading edge of innovation, and CxOs realize it is becoming increasingly important to meld the two dimensions.

CMOs, in particular, want to overhaul every aspect of the customer interface. When asked, “To what extent have you activated the following digital strategy components in your organization?” 87 percent of interviewed CMOs expect to focus on integration of cross-channel touchpoints in three to five years.

Digital Ambitions  - CMOs

Craft engaging customer experiences

As the digital infuses the physical, and vice versa, organizations are transforming the customer experience. Nearly seven in ten CxOs recognize the new imperative – a shift to social and digital interaction. CxOs plan to spend less personal time on IT systems, operations and other such issues, and more time on improving the customer experience.

CxOs intend to use digital channels much more extensively to engage with customers in the future. When asked which channels are most important for their enterprises to engage and interact with customers, interviewed CxOs expect the greatest increase (69 percent) to occur in the use of digital channels in three to five years.

Costumer interaction channels

Executive role perspectives

In the first installment of our Global C-suite Study, we spoke in person with 4,183 top executives worldwide to find out how CxOs are earning the loyalty of digitally enfranchised customers and citizens. For each of six executive roles – CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, CMOs, CHROs and CSCOs – we are following up with reports to provide insights into their individual points of view.

Stepping up to the challenge: CMO insights

CMO cover Stepping up to the challenge: CMO insights from the Global C-suite Study

This report focuses on how the 524 CMOs we interviewed help their enterprises become more “customer-activated.” CMOs are wielding more power in the boardroom, as CEOs increasingly call on them for strategic input. In fact, the CMO now comes second only to the CFO in terms of the influence he or she exerts on the CEO.

A growing number of CMOs are also liaising closely with CIOs – with remarkably positive effects on the bottom line. Where the CMO and CIO work well together, the enterprise is more likely to outperform in terms of revenues and profitability. On the other hand, very few CMOs have made much progress in building a robust digital marketing capability. Only a small percentage have set up social networks for the purpose of engaging with customers, even though online input is a crucial part of the dialogue between a company and its customers. The percentage of CMOs who have integrated their company’s interactions with customers across different channels, installed analytical programs to mine customer data and created digitally enabled supply chains to respond rapidly to changes in customer demand is even smaller.

View the CMO infographic (US)
CMO Insights report cover

Pushing the frontiers: CFO insights

CFO cover Pushing the frontiers: CFO insights from the Global C-suite Study

In this new CFO point of view report, we focus on the perspectives of the 576 CFOs we interviewed. During our previous 2010 Global CFO Study, we identified four different profiles for the finance organization. We also established that one profile – the Value Integrators, as we called them – outperformed all the rest.

Our most current research shows that Value Integrators still stand out from the crowd. We’ve now unearthed a small subset of Value Integrators that do even better than the other members of their group. We’ve named these finance organizations Performance Accelerators, and in this new report we explore the key traits they possess. We look, in particular, at what they’re doing to become more efficient, more forward-looking and more proficient at creating profitable growth.

View the CFO infographic (US)
CFO Insights report cover

New expectations for a new era: CHRO insights

CHRO cover New expectations for a new era: CHRO insights from the Global C-suite Study

The essential bridge between an organization and its customers is the workforce. The ability to engage, develop, recognize and support employees will be critical in the decisive battle for customer loyalty. It is these individuals who represent the organization’s brand in the market, who interact with customers on a daily basis, who analyze changes in customer preferences and who develop and maintain the technologies that help connect the physical and digital worlds. And, therefore, a motivated and properly prepared workforce will be indispensable for success in the customer-activated world.

Through our analysis of the C-suite study responses, we see companies taking important steps in developing a workforce that can compete in a customer-driven world. Included in this analysis is a deeper examination of the 342 Chief Human Resource Officers who participated in the study.

Moving from the back office to the front lines: CIO insights

CIO cover Moving from the back office to the front lines: CIO insights from the Global C-suite Study

In this CIO point of view report, we explore what the 1,656 CIOs we interviewed are doing to help their enterprises become more “customer-activated.” One thing is immediately obvious: just how far some CIOs have come in the past five years. In 2009, we reported that CIOs were rising up the management hierarchy and developing a new, more powerful voice. But they often had to juggle different roles to deal with conflicting goals.

Although CIOs are acutely aware of the need to make their enterprises more customer-activated, they’re also conscious of how important it is to keep everything running smoothly. For CIOs, three specific issues are top of mind. They must:

• Engage with digitally enfranchised customers
• Deal with the basics
• Enhance internal and external collaboration.

View the CIO infographic (US)
CIO Insights report cover

Reinventing the rules of engagement: CEO insights

CEO cover Reinventing the rules of engagement: CEO insights from the Global C-suite Study

This CEO point of view report delves into the perspectives of the 884 CEOs we interviewed during the IBM Global C-suite Study. Since 2004, CEOs consistently identified market forces as the biggest driver of change. In 2012, for the first time, CEOs expected technology to exert the strongest influence on their organizations and strategy.

And this year, CEOs again ranked technology first. Believing the impact of emerging technologies on their organizations will be profound, CEOs anticipate three areas for action:

• Embrace disruption
• Build shared value
• Dare to be open.

View the CEO infographic (US)
CEO Insights report cover
  • SC

    Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) point of view

    Coming in March

C-suite Study videos: Hear from executives  

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Customers are requiring easy, simple and intuitive experiences on all devices

Justyna Kesler, COO of ING Poland shares customer expectations and ongoing challenge to address cost and efficiency pressures.

View this video (00:02:46)
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Leadership roles are being redefined, silos are being removed

Petr Dvorak, V.P. of Vodafone Czech Republic, discusses the importance of a Marketing Leader being visionary, focused on driving change and rallying around universal KPIs to drive alignment across the organization's boardroom.

View this video (00:03:37)
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Adapting the business to evolving customer demands

Rodrigo Galindo, CEO of Kroton Educacional, a Brazilian education company, discusses what makes a good CEO today and in the future, how to work successfully with other board members, and how to continuously drive innovation and deliver technology to meet customer demands.

View this video (00:03:17)
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Developing business strategy from customers' viewpoint

David Johnson, Global CIO of Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate business firm, shares how he collaborates with peers and how future CIOs will spend more time translating data to design solutions for clients.

View this video (00:03:57)
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Building an integrated customer experience

Mara Maehara, CIO of Grupo Pão de Açúcar, a Brazilian retail holding company, discusses how they are approaching building an integrated customer experience, the importance of understanding both the company's strategy and needs of IT, and the belief that the CIO of the future will need to serve as a change agent.

View this video (00:02:55)
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Driving customer relationships by creating experiences

Erwin Verstraelen, CIO of AVEVE, a Belgian agriculture company, discusses how the CIO achieves innovation through enterprise transformation by driving the relationship with customers.

View this video (00:02:56)
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Translating technology into business needs

Julio Baiao, CIO at Viavarejo, a Brazilian electronics retail company, discusses the importance of participating in strategic business decisions, leading in a collaborative environment, and how to be a successful CIO that drives simple, sustainable innovation.

View this video (00:03:08)

How IBM can help C-suite executives


As customers gain more power over the business via social media, their expectations keep rising and their tolerance keeps decreasing.

CIO, Retail, Turkey

   We need to collaborate and create a transparent supply chain, instead of thinking that knowledge is power and that we can be the superheroes who save the day.

CSCO, Information Technology, United States

   Big data is the buzz and digital is now the new normal. We need to change the way we work with our clients in this continuous virtual cycle.

CMO, Banking, Singapore

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Video: Welcome to The Customer-activated Enterprise

CEOs share control with customers.

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IBM Study: C-suite leaders look to customers to steer business strategy

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