NORTH HIGHLAND 2021 BEACON REPORT: Business leaders cite cybersecurity, operational efficiency and customer experience as this year’s top priorities

January 26, 2021 (ATLANTA) – Eighty-three percent of senior business executives at $1 billion+ companies across industry sectors rate cybersecurity their top priority for this year, followed closely by operational efficiency (80%) and customer experience (79%), according to the North Highland 2021 Beacon Report. However, leaders do not feel “very prepared” to achieve their top priorities. 

Interestingly, as companies emerge from a year shaken by the pandemic, most executives are bullish about growth with 51% expecting revenue to increase by 5% or more, compared to last year, and only one in five expecting a decline. Retail and life science companies are most likely to expect growth (80%), while just 20% in government and public non-transportation sectors project increases.   

Barbara Ray, Managing Director and President, Client Services, said, “As the pandemic continues to bring uncertainty, leaders are pursuing technology and data transformation, however, they recognize the crucial reality that the workforce is a vital missing piece. By focusing on agile ways of working and more frequent planning cycles, companies can boost workplace flexibility needed to drive operational efficiency and customer experience, areas that can create ongoing differentiation in the marketplace.”  

Additional priorities expected to spur growth include digital capabilities and data & analytics, both cited by 78% of respondents. Moreover, global health concerns have brought workforce safety and well-being to the forefront with three-quarters of organizations focusing efforts on employee/customer wellness and diversity & inclusion. These areas can help enhance both physical and psychological health in the workplace and beyond. 

Not surprising, the pandemic is ranked as the top external barrier to preparedness for achieving priorities by 71% of those surveyed, with shifting customer demands (42%) the top catalyst for change. Leading internal barriers are budgetary constraints and workforce skills/capability, each at 66%, and focus/clear strategy (61%). Fiscal pressures are felt most acutely by leaders in the hard-hit transportation industry who are most likely to perceive priorities as costly to resolve. 

Company transformation initiatives this year will mostly focus on data and technology (51%). Ray noted, “These efforts are needed to refine digital and operational changes implemented in crisis times in response to the rapid and massive shifts that businesses and consumers made to enable remote work and online activity.” 

Forty-four percent of companies also identify transformation efforts a priority to enhance customer experience and digital capabilities. 

The North Highland Beacon Report tracks trends to understand top management priorities and included responses from 730 senior decision-makers from $1+ billion companies in the US and UK. Sectors span financial services, retail, transportation, life sciences, and media/entertainment/communications. To view the full 2021 Beacon report, visit: https://www.northhighland.com/Beacon-2021