Nearly half of CEOs identify productivity as their highest business priority, according to a new global study by IBM, up from sixth place in 2022. Those surveyed recognise technology modernisation is key to achieving productivity goals, ranking it as the second highest priority. Yet, CEOs face barriers in modernising and adopting new technologies like generative AI.

The annual CEO study found three-quarters of CEO respondents believe that competitive advantage will depend on who has the most advanced generative AI. However, executives are also weighing potential risks or barriers of the technology such as bias, ethics and security. More than half (57%) are concerned about data security and 48% worry about bias or data accuracy.

There is also a disconnect between CEOs and their teams when it comes to AI readiness. Half (50%) of CEOs surveyed report they are already integrating generative AI into products and services, and 43% say they are using generative AI to inform strategic decisions. Yet, just 29% of their executive teams agree they have the in-house expertise to adopt generative AI; only 30% of non-CEO senior executives surveyed say that their organisation is ready to adopt generative AI responsibly.

“Generative AI can reduce the barriers to AI adoption and half of CEOs interviewed are actively exploring it to drive a new wave of productivity, efficiency and quality of service across industries. CEOs need to assess their company requirements around data privacy, intellectual property protection, security, algorithmic accountability and governance in order to plan their deployment of emerging use cases of generative AI at scale,” IBM Consulting global managing partner, Jesus Mantas said.

The survey found retail CEOs are laser focused on customer experience, with technology playing an important role in achieving business goals and profitability. More than half (52%) of retail CEOs now prioritise customer experience above all else, more than CEOs across industries (44% overall). 

With the rise of cyber threats, cybersecurity takes the highest priority for 49% of retail CEOs in the next three years, surpassing cross-industry CEOs at 43%.