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4 Questions to Guide Your Response to Digitization

Most R&D teams haven't been in the vanguard of their company's march to a more digital future; the answers to four simple questions will help R&D execs change that

Although CIOs and their teams might have been the first part of a large firm to feel digitization was reshaping the way companies worked, nearly all senior managers across a big company are now interested in the topic (see chart 1).

And this undoubtedly means there is a role for the R&D function. In fact, many would see R&D as a fairly obvious place for digitization to have taken hold in the first place. Functions have been connected to a global ecosystem of ideators and technologists for years, R&D strategy requires insight into customer needs to prioritize which technology opportunities are right for the business, and technology itself is the enabler of a digital transformation.

The major interest in digitization chart

Chart 1: The major interest in digitization  n=578 business leaders  Source: CEB Digital Enterprise 2020 Survey

Unfortunately, however, R&D teams have rarely led the digitization charge at their companies. Many R&D executives in CEB’s dedicated network believe they have fallen behind their company’s transition to a more digital future.

R&D lags other functions in automating workflow tools and migrating work online. And while data is now produced by nearly every part of the business, and software increasingly finds its way in all products and services, the complexity associated with analyzing data and upgrading skills challenges senior R&D managers daily.

To help R&D leaders embrace a more digital future, they should start with four simple questions. If you can answer all of these, you’re ahead of your peers in many other firms.


  1. How do we get everyone on the same page about what’s pushing digitization, and how our company is responding (or should respond)?

  2. Are we focused on the right digital priorities?

  3. What do we need to do to prepare the R&D function to implement those priorities?

  4. What skills and roles will we need to implement those priorities?


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