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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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

C-suite Study videos: Hear from executives  

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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

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Video: Welcome to The Customer-activated Enterprise

CEOs share control with customers.

C-suite Study press release

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

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