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CEOs must not let recovery be derailed by heightened cyber security risks

PwC PERSPECTIVE

Chris Gaines

Chris Gaines
PwC UK's lead cyber security partner

A year ago, the 23rd Annual PwC CEO Survey suggested three quarters (75%) of UK CEOs saw the pace of technological change as a threat to their business. This number had been going up steadily in recent years as business leaders feared technology was changing at a rate they couldn’t keep up with.

But this year, our survey reveals that number has fallen sharply to just over half (55%). It seems the speed of technological change has been more of an ally to CEOs over the past year. This is no doubt in large part due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ushered in a period of frantic digital transformation, as businesses raced to move services online and get employees working effectively from home. 

Those dramatic disruptions are also why more than three quarters (77%) of UK CEOs say they now plan to increase their investment in digital transformation. Because as vaccines are rolled out and as we start to see a path out of the pandemic, those disruptive trends that caused a rush to digital are not going to go into reverse. 

The way we all work, shop, collaborate and communicate has changed forever. To what extent will become clear over the coming months and years, but CEOs are wise to plan for ongoing change and increased emphasis on their digital offering.

“The stakes are so much higher than they were 12 months ago. Businesses have become more aware how reliant on technology they are for their very survival, and as such the risk of cyber security attacks naturally weighs more heavily on CEOs’ minds.”

Heightened cyber security fears

As the criticality of technology has increased so have fears of cyber security threats. This year’s survey shows 91% of UK CEOs are concerned about the risk cyber threats pose to their growth prospects. This is up from 80% last year.

This heightened concern is understandable. The stakes are so much higher than they were 12 months ago. Businesses have become more aware of how reliant on technology they are for their very survival, and as such the risk of cyber security attacks naturally weighs more heavily on CEOs’ minds.

The changes implemented over the past 12 months aren’t organisation wide, they are society wide, and many were implemented in haste. Risk averse organisations who in different times may have taken years to plan for increased remote working made the change overnight. Organisations must now effectively, securely embed such changes while continuing to evolve and innovate.

Our survey shows more than two-thirds of UK CEOs (67%) are planning to increase their investment in cyber security and data privacy, but investing in defences is only part of the approach CEOs should be taking.

With every part of every organisation now more reliant on technology, and more reliant upon the technology of suppliers and other organisations within their ecosystem, business leaders need to appreciate the role they must play in securing their organisation.

Securing an enterprise is far more than ensuring the CIO builds the right technical controls. It is about simplifying the organisation to be securable. It is about assessing, understanding and managing the cyber risk impact of every business decision. And it is about recognising that much of cyber security risk originates from vulnerabilities outside their organisation. CEOs are right to be concerned about cyber security risk but the challenge they face is shaping their organisations to be securable.

However, this period of change we find ourselves in presents the perfect moment to face into that challenge.

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Marco Amitrano

Marco Amitrano

Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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