Digital transformation has received a boost in the wake of global Covid-19 disruption.

A new survey from Gartner finds that 69% of boards of directors (BoDs) accelerated their digital business initiatives, and almost half anticipate changing their organisations’ business model as a result of the pandemic.

The 2021 Gartner Board of Directors Survey was conducted via an online survey from May through June 2020 with 265 respondents in the US, EMEA and APAC in a board of director role or a member of the corporate board of directors. The survey aimed to understand how boards of directors view digital-business-driven business model evolution in their enterprises along with the role of the CIO and other executive leaders, specifically in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.

“BoDs play a strong role in helping the executive leadership team focus beyond the short-term risks associated with this extended pandemic,” says Partha Iyengar, distinguished research vice-president at Gartner. “Technology-driven digital transformation can, and should be, a strong enabler in addressing employee, customer, supply chain and broad brand impact to position the enterprise to come out of the crisis stronger.”

The majority of BoDs (67%) expect budgetary increases in technology as a result of the pandemic, while functional areas such as marketing and HR are expected to experience budgetary cuts.

Respondents expect a nearly 7% increase in their IT budgets for 2020. “The long-term ask of BoDs during COVID-19 is to approve forward-looking investments even in the face of potentially plummeting revenue and profits,” says Iyengar.

Analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to emerge stronger as game-changer technologies as a result of the pandemic, as enterprises lean on them to drive better decision making in the new remote-work-first environment.

Driven by the onset of Covid-19, digital technology initiatives will serve as the top strategic business priority for BoDs over the next two years, followed by customer engagement and managing the remote workforce.

Eighty-six percent of respondents deem technology as having a transformational role in addressing strategic business priorities, which is why most organisations are expected to create a new “chief digital officer” role to respond to Covid-19 in the long term.

“BoDs must take innovative approaches to their governance models by leveraging technologies and IT expertise to accommodate the impacts that the pandemic is thrusting upon their digital transformation agendas,” Iyengar says.

Almost all BoDs expect functional leaders to collaborate with one another during Covid-19. More than half believe that CIOs serve as partners with senior business leaders, while over a third look to the CIO to lead digital business issues alone.

Longer-term renewal is an important focus area for the board, with 28% of respondents focusing on the “Renew” phase of The Reset.

Executive management is less focused on renewal (18%) and more focused on the “Respond” phase, with just under half reporting it being their core focus area.

“CIOs and the rest of the executive management team should engage with the BoD on creating a longer-term strategy for revival – and even survival – post crisis,” says Iyengar.