Digital Leadership Report 2021

What’s keeping tech leaders awake at night as they look beyond the pandemic?

About the report

data points
years of data

Replay the DLR Launch event

The Digital Leadership Report was launched as a live broadcast from Harvey Nash Group’s HQ in London, and streamed online globally.

Watch the live event recording

Velocity: speed & direction

No-one needs to be told how important speed and agility is. But speed alone does not get you to your destination. And as digital leaders begin to look beyond the pandemic many are realising that their destination, and direction of travel, have changed. 

Everything is new

New products, new services, new ways to engage with customers, staff and suppliers have all become priorities, and for many organisations it is fundamentally changing the way they view technology. And who owns it.  

Welcome to the report

So welcome to our Digital Leadership Report, brought to you in collaboration with CIONET and with contributions from MIT CISR

Now in its 23rd year, and building on its heritage as the ‘CIO Survey’, this report brings you the widest ranging insights into the world of digital leadership and everything that comes from it. 

We hope it helps you find both speed, and direction.

Bev White  

Bev White, CEO Harvey Nash Group

In collaboration with


8 things you need to know

Tech investment is up

Last year we saw unprecedented levels of unplanned spend on digital particularly when it came to enabling remote working. This year we are seeing planned spend increasing at the highest levels in a decade. The main driver behind this is transformation at previously unseen rates.

An age of disruption

The pandemic has forced organisations to re-imagine the way they do business. Creating new products and services has become a top three board priority for the first time since our research began. Half of organisation have major plans for transformation in the next two to three years.

Remote working is a double-edged sword

Work/life balance has been improved massively and productivity with it, but mental wellbeing, staff engagement, collaboration and inclusivity have taken a big hit. Eight in ten employees are re-assessing their life priorities. Only one in three organisations have properly updated their employee offer.

Skills shortages remain on the rise

Shortages are the highest on record, particularly around cyber security, big data and architecture. Organisations are looking to cross-train their staff where possible and bring in outsiders to cover niche skill deficits.

Sustainability is being ignored

More than half of organisations recognise that technology is crucial to improving carbon footprint, but greener and cleaner is placed second to last on the boards priorities for the technology teams. How much longer can businesses put this on the back burner?

Gender diversity progress very, very slow

Mandating shortlists and quotas are largely disregarded or not working. The successful strategies for improving the ratios are driven through policy and culture.

The fuzzy organisation

Businesses are emerging from the pandemic with their people in disparate locations, more technology embedded within the cloud and their supply chains diffused. This makes it harder to delineate the ‘boundary’ of an organisation and presents a new challenge for all digital leaders.

Security a perennial issue

Transformation may be the driving force behind digitisation but creating change without securing the technology perimeter is pointless. Preventing and mitigating cyber-attacks remains a key priority for digital leaders and unlike other tactical pressures it probably always will be.


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Report Highlights

Board Priorities & Investment

of orgs
expecting to increase tech budgets in 2022
of orgs expecting to increase head count in 2022
of orgs expect to transform their operations in next 3 years

Much of the planned future spend focuses on getting closer to the customer and transformation.

Boards are reliant on digital leaders to drive this change and create the products and services of the future.

Investment in digital continues to grow, both in technology and systems and the people needed to deliver the vision.


Driving business performance through technology

now think their org is ‘digitally excellent’ (twice the number in 2018)
digitally excellent orgs are 3 x as effective at pivoting and scaling their ideas
only one quarter of orgs feel they are gaining commercially from their data

More organisations than ever before are reporting success with their digital strategy.

These digitally ‘excellent’ organisations distinguish themselves by being close to their customer, having a strong ability to adapt quickly, and being able to use data to make informed decisions.

Many are struggling to make best use of the data they hold.

Managing Technology

of orgs have over one fifth of techspent managed outside IT
RPA has almost double in large scale usage in 3 years
of orgs have had a major cyber attack in last 2 years

The pandemic accelerated the direction of travel for Cloud technologies and Business Managed IT adoption, putting much more power in the hands of disparate areas of the business.

We can also see big leaps in the adoption of the Internet of Things and RPA.

However, few organisations are making the jump to large-scale implementations of AI, RPA and Big Data, where there may be some way to go on the scale of maturity.


Managing the tech team

typical amount of days expected to work from home
report a skills shortage
proportion of female tech leaders

Homeworking and hybrid working is here to stay.

This has driven a boost in productivity but also challenges collaboration, engagement and mental wellbeing.

Redesigning the employee offer to maintain the positives and reduce the negatives will be key going forward, but few digital leaders have done it.

Technology for a sustainable future

of boards recognise the important of tech in sustainability
tech’s contribution to global  CO2 emissions (more than the travel sector)
only one fifth of tech leaders actively reducing tech CO2 emissions

Without doubt, technology has an important role to play in improving carbon footprints.

Driven by planned legislation and consumer demands, the board are increasingly asking questions around digital and sustainability.

Despite this, sustainability is not high on the agenda of the digital leader, and few people are aware that tech is a bigger emitter of CO2 than the travel industry.


The Role of the Digital Leader

of digital leaders focussed on realising new potential, rather than legacy
of digital leaders are members of operational boards
CEOs and CMOs are twice as likely to be responsible for driving customer engagement as CIOs

For boards, the promise of digital ultimatelylies in being close to the customer, adapting and transforming products andservices as the market evolves.

While CIOs have traditionally provided the gateway to digitisation, they no longer have a monopoly. Other leaders are beginning to share the responsibility.

The digital leader who delivers an agile environment driven by data insights will be the most value. But this is no easy task.

Special Reports

CIONET Special report

Everything is changing. So everything needs to change

You don’t have to look far into this report to see just how quickly things are changing in technology. It’s something that is very much talked about in CIONET’s events and discussion held with our 10,000 members in 25 countries.

Read the CIONET Special Report >>

MIT CISR Special Report

Building the responsive enterprise

Covid-19 has reinforced the need for all enterprises to increase their business responsiveness. And who knows what new disruption or opportunity is just around the corner?

Read the MIT CISR Special Report >>

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