Over a third of major UK companies have appointed a digital transformation leader

Jun 21, 2017

  • Fewer than one in five global companies have a digital leader in place

  • Only 10% of UK digital leaders are female, none of whom are in the ‘C-suite’

  • UK insurance companies lead the way with two-thirds having a digital leader

More than a third (35%) of the UK’s largest companies have appointed a dedicated digital leader to drive competitive advantage from digital transformation. This is significantly higher than the global average of 19%, which itself has trebled since 2015, when only 6% of companies1 around the world had appointed digital leaders, showing companies are realising the benefits of having someone in this role.

The findings come from a new study of digital leadership by Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business, examining the top 2,500 public companies around the world by market capitalisation, including 120 in the UK, to better understand how many companies have appointed a digital leader, who they are, and how the position fits into company hierarchies.

Whilst the UK now has a higher number of people in the role, it still ranks third in Europe behind France, where 62% of companies have a digital leader, and Germany (39%). However, European companies are hiring digital leaders at a faster rate than their global peers - 38% in Europe versus 23% in North America, 13% in South and Latin America, and 7% in Asia Pacific.

Digital leaders in the UK are less likely to have a technology background (29%) compared to their international counterparts (41%). Instead, nearly half (48%) have a background in marketing, sales or customer service, compared to 33% globally [Figure 1].

According to the study, only 10% of the UK’s digital leaders are female - below the global average  of 16% - and none sit on the Executive Board or so called ‘C-suite’ (Chief Digital Officer). By industry, the insurance sector is the most likely to have a digital leader in the UK - 67% of companies have one in place, followed by telecoms, media and entertainment (56%); food, beverages and agriculture (50%); and banking (47%) [Figure 2].

Martin Roets, Strategy& director, said:

“We’ve seen a significant increase in companies around the world appointing digital leaders in the last year across all industries. Whilst there was some hype around this role as it emerged, many companies are beginning to realise the benefits of having a digital leader in place and it’s a position that is likely here to stay.

“It’s notable that fewer digital leaders in the UK have technology backgrounds than in other geographies. It seems that the role here is increasingly expected to focus on shaping digital propositions for customers, rather than focusing primarily on the technical delivery challenges.”

Madeleine Thomson, UK technology consulting leader at PwC, added:

“Faced with the prospect of the organisational challenges that come with digital transformation, appointing a digital leadership role is becoming increasingly necessary for businesses to thrive.

“It no longer makes sense to spread out various digital efforts across a business. By incorporating responsibility under one person, companies can define a unified approach and start to see real results from their digital strategy to support future growth.”

Other global findings:

  • 60% of digital transformation leaders have been hired within the last two years;

  • Financial services and consumer-focused industries have the highest digital leader ratio - 35% of insurance companies and 27% of both banking and consumer products companies have digital leaders;

  • 40% of digital leaders are in C-suite positions (Chief Digital Officers).














Figure 1: UK digital leaders by background

Figure 2: Percentage of UK companies with digital leaders by industry sector


Notes for editors.

  1. Strategy& 2015 CDO Study: https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/uk/home/press_contacts/displays/cdo-studiy-uk

Strategy& examined the global top 2,500 listed companies by market capitalization as of 1st July 2016, as defined by Bloomberg. For the purposes of this study, the CDO is defined as that executive, no matter of the title, who has been given the task of putting into practice the digital mission of his or her company or business unit. This could be a high-level member of the C-Suite; variously called the CDO, CTO, CIO, CSO or else – whose presence is critical in helping define his or her company’s overall strategic direction and bringing about its cross-functional transformation into a full digital enterprise.

For more information, please visit www.strategyand.pwc.com/cdostudy. A copy of the study and breakdowns by industry, company size and geography are also available on request.

About Strategy&

Strategy& is a global team of practical strategists committed to helping you seize essential advantage. We do that by working alongside you to solve your toughest problems and helping you capture your greatest opportunities. We bring 100 years of strategy consulting experience and the unrivaled industry and functional capabilities of the PwC network to the task.


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