How much value does the World Economic Forum believe digitisation could add to businesses over the next decade? The answer is a staggering $100 trillion, way more than the current market cap of all global businesses (equal to $80 billion, according to Bloomberg).

The implications of such commercial advantage cannot be overlooked, but to paraphrase David Packard, IT is too important to be left to the IT department. It is poor communication and a lack of shared vision between IT and the business that tend to cause problems, setbacks and inability to extract the true value of technology – together with a lack of investment.

So, what is the answer for businesses? Should all senior leaders today be technologists first and foremost? Our FTSE 100 CEO Tracker research suggests not: it indicates that just over one in 10 current FTSE 100 CEOs (11%) have a technology background, way behind the 40% who have reached the top job after a career in finance.

Whatever the background of a CEO, the key to successful digitisation is the ability to understand what is possible to achieve through the application of smart innovation as well as strategic risk. CEOs and FDs need to partner with CIOs to plan for the future use of IT such as business process automation and frictionless supply chains.

They can aspire to do this without necessarily having to understand how it all works at a technical level, but most definitely on the basis of knowing how technology can improve tangible business outcomes.

Senior leaders can begin to do this by taking three initial steps:

Think like a customer

Technologies such as product recommendation algorithms, high-speed supply chains, AI assistants and chatbots, automated credit checks and online applications have transformed the business to consumer trading environment.

A first step for senior executives is therefore to consider their organisation’s own processes and touchpoints with partners, customers and employees - and whether they could be transformed using similar approaches. What can they deduce from their own personal experiences with services such as Amazon, Netflix and Nutmeg and how can they work with IT to understand how to apply their conclusions to their own businesses?

Understand knowledge gaps

Technology is one element of digitising a business, but people and their ability to thrive in a more automated environment are important too. Before taking any action on transforming processes, executives need to understand where the gaps are in their current workforce and whether they need to recruit more professionals with specific skills and expertise to take the business to the next level.

They will not be alone: according to our research, nearly half (46%) of UK businesses plan to create new teams to tackle digital transformation. A third (33%) of finance leaders aim to use temporary or contract professionals for business transformation projects to either fill business-as-usual positions or support expansion.

Act quickly to secure the best people

As the next wave of digitisation continues, demand for people with relevant skills will grow exponentially. Three in 10 (31%) finance executives already plan to add new permanent positions to implement digitisation and automation efforts within their departments over the next 12 months.

Employers will need to find ways to improve their recruitment process so that they can compete effectively with peer organisations to secure the skills they need. They could also consider a flexible recruitment model, featuring contract, temporary and permanent professionals - or even a blended solution consulting model - to achieve optimum results.

The successful senior executive of the future will be one who can share a united vision of the digital future for their business while promoting collaboration, innovation and cultural change at the same time. Find out more about Robert Half UK’s views on Digital transformation and the future of hiring.

By Matt Weston, UK Managing Director at Robert Half