According to a Deloitte survey published today, less than half (45%) of executives are confident in their own digital skills and ability to lead their organisation in the digital economy, while just 16% believe their talent pool has enough knowledge and expertise to deliver their digital strategy.

The lack of confidence comes as 40 per cent of executives say they do not receive the support they need to develop their own digital skills and 54 per cent do not believe their learning and development curriculum supports their digital strategy.

The findings come from the second edition of Deloitte’s Digital Disruption Index, surveying digital leaders from 106 organisations, with a combined market value of £707.8bn, which equates to 27% of the UK quoted equity market.

Confidence in digital skills is currently low, almost half (49%) of executives plan to invest more than £10m in digital technologies and ways of working by 2020 – 35% plan to invest more than £10m in the 2018 alone. But 38% of executives who say their organisation will invest in three or more emerging technologies over the next two years say that they do not have a coherent strategy in place.

“The pace of technological change is accelerating, however in the rush to keep up many organisations are yet to develop a coherent strategy for investing in digital technologies,” said Kent Mackenzie, Global Fintech lead at Deloitte.

“More efforts need to be made to align learning and development alongside strategy and investment. End-to-end digital transformation is not just about advances in technology, but about changing the ways of doing business.”

Leap of faith in AI

The lack of confidence in digital leadership has not stopped organisations from embracing new technologies. Two in five (41%) businesses have invested in AI technology, up from one in five (22%) who said they had in 2017. Overall, 10% have already invested more than £5m in AI, with 15% planning to invest more than £5m in the coming year.

Despite significant investments having already been made in AI, less than one in four (23%) say that their leadership team has a clear understanding of the technology and how it will impact their business.

Overall by 2020, 82% of executives plan to invest in AI, while 70% plan to invest in robotic and cognitive automation and 57% in blockchain.

Mackenzie added: “Investment into AI has seen significant growth since 2017, with some organisations now moving into large-scale adoption. However, many leadership teams currently lack awareness of the technology and this could act as a significant barrier to the adoption and development of the technology. It also suggests a lack of preparedness among senior leadership for how AI will impact their workforce.”

 Digital skills gap to be addressed ‘urgently’

Only 12% of leaders believe UK school leavers and graduates have the right digital skills, down from 20% who said the same in 2017. Over three-quarters are experiencing challenges in recruiting employees with the relevant digital skills. Data scientists and analysts remain the most difficult roles to recruit and retain.

While executives continue to worry that not enough school-leavers and graduates have the right mix of digital skills, only 17% believe that UK companies lead the way with digital.

Mackenzie concluded: “There is a digital skills gap that needs to be addressed urgently. Digital is not just about technology. It is about what technology enables. It can fundamentally change how work gets done, how organisations interact with their customers and how decisions are made. To realise the potential of digital technologies and benefit from these, it is vital for businesses to join together in addressing the digital skills gap.”