Point of View

Wake up. Technology success is not about the technology

January 11, 2021

It’s about everything else: Join the “superheroes” of technology adoption by focusing on top-level leadership, talent, and your strategic approach toward technology and data.

Based on enterprises’ relative technology adoption maturity and their size and pace of technology investment, four unique groups emerged in HFS Research’s latest survey in collaboration with KPMG International: Superheroes, Sidekicks, Strivers, and Stragglers. Each category has unique characteristics, shown in Exhibit 1 (Exhibit 3 in the Appendix has more information on the clustering methodology). The differences between the winners and losers boil down to their not-so-aptly-named soft skills:

  • Lead technology adoption from the top with a culture to match. C-suite leadership can drive an alignment of technology adoption with business objectives and a newfound culture for change—one that’s essential for survival and growth during the pandemic.
  • Good intentions and investment mean nothing without the talent to wield technology and realize value. Investments and strategies for emerging technology must also focus on reskilling and sourcing the right external expertise.
  • Focus on the combined value of emerging technologies and underpin it all with a healthy respect for data. It’s about the strategic approach, not just the amount or quality of new technology and data.

That the most important differences reside in soft skills serves to emphasize why success with emerging technology is seldom only about the technology—there are plenty of technology and broader service providers to help you there. It’s everything else—leadership, talent, strategy, and more—that allows you to leverage emerging technology to achieve your business outcomes. Balancing technology and data alongside people, process, and change management is as important as ever.

“This analysis of the four segments tracked around emerging technology deployment clearly shows that the presence of sound strategies and capabilities around talent, governance, and focused strategy leadership demonstrates the difference between success and failure.”

Cliff Justice, Principal, KPMG

Now, we’ll delve into why and how the groups differ and how each cluster’s characteristics affect success.

Exhibit 1: Four respondent clusters emerged: Superheroes, Sidekicks, Strivers, and Stragglers.

Note: The spider charts represent the midpoint for each variable within each cluster on each of the six variables. 

Sample: 600 executives across Global 2000 enterprises (Phase I sample)

Source: HFS Research in conjunction with KPMG International

The C-suite must drive technology adoption and align it with broader business objectives.

From C-suite buy-in and leadership, everything else follows. Technology adoption must become a native part of the enterprise strategy and native to every employee. We must change, and we must leave those customers and partners who can’t behind. Top-level leadership drives organization-wide confidence to adopt, find value, and achieve clearly defined business outcomes with any technology.

Culture becomes one of embracing change and adopting new technologies with a clear mindset for why: customer and employee experiences. Customer experiences will never be significantly better than employee experiences. Lead your employees into adopting new technologies with clear objectives and a mandate from the leadership team, and value will follow.

Strivers and Stragglers still focus on cost. Whether it’s Strivers—who are investing but not realizing value—or Stragglers—with high confidence but no investment or value to match—the fact that these two groups still cite cost reduction as a top-three reason for investing speaks volumes.

Despite extracting value from investments and having indisputable leadership drive—Superheroes still cite developing business cases and getting leadership buy-in as top-three barriers—they’re not complacent! Contrast this to Stragglers, who have the second-highest confidence levels in their organizations despite languishing investments and a lack of value.

Superheroes are the only cluster that doesn’t see talent as a top-three barrier.

Invest in your people while bringing them along on the road to change. Sidekicks, Strivers, and Stragglers cite a lack of talent as a major barrier despite varying levels of commitment and confidence with their technology initiatives. Superheroes, however, appear confident that their talent strategies are contributing to their success. It’s no good pouring money into something none of your employees can adopt and use to drive value for the customer and the business.

To say that technology success is not about technology doesn’t mean that you can ignore technology—quite the opposite—but it needs a joined-up strategic approach.

Superheroes are the only cluster on the technology front where either analytics or AI appears in the top three investments, underpinning a key HFS message: It’s emerging technologies in combination that deliver—and the combination normally takes the form of analytics and AI being layered on top of automation, internet of things (IoT) platforms, or cloud adoption value (see one of our many pieces on “the power of AND”). Hybrid cloud is the third of Superheroes’ top three investments, and it has been a key lever of survival and growth during the pandemic (see our separate piece on a recent cloud-themed webinar with KPMG and Google). Even the differential characteristics between clusters that focus on technology aren’t about the technology—rather the approach and mindset to using it in combination to drive the most value. We can say the same for data.

Superheroes respect the law… and data.

Beyond their leadership, change-embracing cultures, talent, and combined view for emerging technologies, superheroes’ attitudes toward data as a foundational resource also stand out (Exhibit 2). Organizational capital must take many forms across people, process, and technology—but if you ignore or mistreat the data that fuels the value of emerging technologies, flows through your processes, and ultimately unleashes your employees by providing insight, the best-laid plans will crumble.


Exhibit 2: Other Superhero differentiators include using data policies to increase trust, recognizing and treating data as an asset, and investing in “organizational capital”.

Note: A green circle around a number indicates a statistically significant advantage beyond the closest group(s); green text alone indicates a directional advantage.

Sample: 600 executives across Global 2000 enterprises (Phase I sample)

Source: HFS Research in conjunction with KPMG International


The Bottom Line: Transformation is not about technology. It’s about everything else—leadership, talent, strategy—that takes technology and turns it into outcomes.

People-process-technology-data-change management. The technology bubble has become so overwhelming for many that everything else is too-often ignored during enterprises’ transformation journeys. But it’s everything else that means technology has any value at all to your business, employees, and customers. Once you align technology (and everything else) with your goals, it’s time to start thinking about moving along that roadmap like our study’s Superheroes. 



Exhibit 3: The clustering methodology used a k-means algorithm to find respondent groups that best fit six chosen variables representing emerging technology prowess.

Sample: 600 executives across Global 2000 enterprises (Phase I sample)

Source: HFS Research in conjunction with KPMG International


Clustering variables explained

  1. Maturity of investment represents the relative stage of adoption across emerging technologies on the following scale: no investments (least mature), plans to invest, piloting, currently implementing in a few areas, implemented at scale (most mature).
  2. Investment level represents the current relative size of investments across emerging technologies.
  3. Growth of spending represents the expected relative growth in spending on emerging technologies over the next 12 months.
  4. Value realized represents the realized impact from investments in emerging technologies on the following scale: already seeing tangible value (maximum value realized), expect to see significant value in the next 1-2 years, expect to see significant value in the next 3-5 years, expect to see significant value after 5 years (lowest value realized).
  5. Benefits realized represents the realized quantitative value from investments in emerging technologies on the most important quantitative measure on the following scale: exceeding target (highest), meeting target, below target (lowest).
  6. Relative confidence indicates how the respondent perceives their organization vis-à-vis industry leaders on the following scale: a long way behind (least confident) to a long way ahead (most confident).

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