PwC’s 2023 Emerging Technology Survey

The state of emerging tech today — and four practices that grow the top and bottom lines

Timing is everything — especially if you’re a business leader considering emerging technology investments. AI, blockchain, virtual reality, even quantum computing and the rest of the Essential Eight can drive business growth. But without the right approach, they can result in wasted investments, shareholder frustration and uncertain futures for the executive champion. Cautionary tales abound — from the VHS rental days through the bust to premature forays in extended reality. Still, there are success stories, companies that have created whole new markets, revenue streams and business models.

So, what determines if your emerging tech strategy is prescient — or premature? How do you avoid falling for hype or falling behind? How do you balance these efforts with other pressing needs such as cloud migration, compliance obligations and day-to-day operations?

We designed our 2023 Emerging Technology Survey to help answer these questions. The results, along with our first-hand experience within PwC and with clients, can help you make the most of these technologies: how to develop a strategy, execute effectively and grow trust with stakeholders every step of the way toward delivering positive business outcomes.

Our survey shows that a few companies — very few — are getting these technologies right. Executives in these organizations report significantly higher benefits from emerging tech in general, and from generative AI (GenAI) in particular, than their peers. With the help of tech-specific governance and of workforce transformations, many are even using emerging tech to build trust with stakeholders.

We call these companies — 7% of respondents in our survey — EmTech Accelerators. Our survey data not only identifies these companies, it pinpoints four practices that likely explain their success.


Where investments are flowing: EmTech in US business today

In 2016, we identified a set of emerging technologies, which we call the Essential Eight. Since then, they have moved from the lab into boardrooms and living rooms, offices and schools, storefronts and manufacturing facilities.

Several of the Essential Eight stand apart. AI, helped by GenAI’s extraordinary scalability, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are used at scale at many companies today. Other emerging tech (virtual reality, augmented reality, advanced robotics and blockchain) can deliver significant value but may have been back-burnered or are serving limited use cases. Still other technologies (quantum computing and neuromorphic computing, of which neural interfaces are a subset) are promising but several years away from major business relevance. Our data shows that investments reflect this reality, with AI (including GenAI) topping the list. In fact, 55% of respondents say their company invested in AI — it was a top-3 investment priority — in the last 12 months, more than any other technology listed.

While AI is the clear leader, each of these technologies is gaining traction. A majority of executives who responded, (89%) tell us their companies are increasing their overall technology budget, which may be used to fund emerging tech initiatives. For example, 37% of executives whose companies are adopting GenAI in the next 12 months say they’re funding it through a net increase in their tech budget. When it comes to human resources, 28% of respondents report that at least one fifth of their workforce is involved in emerging tech as part of their primary job function. Yet, even as most companies are investing in emerging technologies, the EmTech Accelerators do so differently.

Faster time to market and higher profits: Meet the EmTech Accelerators

EmTech Accelerators are using these technologies first and foremost for growth. They report improved products and services, faster time to market, improved decision-making and higher profits. Two thirds also say that emerging tech helps drive operational efficiencies — a significant percentage, but the lowest on the list of 13 benefits. For all these benefits, EmTech Accelerators massively outperform the overall sample. But the difference is greatest for growth-related activities.

The EmTech Accelerators

To identify the EmTech Accelerators, we designed two indexes to capture how much companies are already achieving measurable value from tech-related investments. One index covered all of the Essential Eight technologies. The other focused on GenAI specifically. EmTech Accelerators were those that reached the top 10% of both the broader and the GenAI-specific indexes. Data analysis then found common traits in how these companies approach emerging technologies.

Here are four practices that likely explain EmTech Accelerators’ outperformance, PwC insights designed to help other companies do the same and a special spotlight on GenAI.

Four lessons from EmTech Accelerators

1. Think big: Use emerging tech for reinvention

For EmTech Accelerators, the technologies are primarily about transforming business models and market expansion. Given how fast these technologies are advancing, these companies often look outside their industry for use cases to adopt and then adapt to create new customer experiences, differentiated employee experiences, and growth strategies for their specific marketplaces and lines of business.

In the past, a measured approach to emerging tech has often seemed wisest. Today, many of these technologies are already too valuable to treat as isolated experiments or pilots. The time has come to see what works to deliver the outcomes you seek, then roll out applications at scale. And — to take a lesson from the EmTech Accelerators — it can be advantageous not just to aim for operational efficiencies. Aim for new operations.

Where to start

  • Learn from proven use cases to help drive outcomes. Emerging technologies can be powerful and can benefit greatly from scale. Look at other industry use cases — and then look internally. Can you apply and adapt solutions from one initiative or area to others across your company? Consider opportunities for new markets, new business models and new ways of working that involve your entire organization.
  • Design for trust. To transform your organization with emerging tech, stakeholder trust is vital. Trust by design is almost always faster and more cost-effective than having to close gaps and reverse engineer systems later on. If you engineer governance, risk management and responsible use policies into design from Day One, you’re more likely to avoid headaches and achieve more long-term value.
  • Empower your people. Skills and policies are just the start. It’s important to foster an entrepreneurial mindset among your employees. As you teach your people to use emerging technologies, create a culture and incentives that encourage taking smart risks, finding new uses and innovating new solutions.

2. Commit to it: Allocate the right resources

EmTech Accelerators are far more likely than others in our survey to invest more financial and human capital in emerging technologies — and they’re doing so shrewdly. Their people investments, for example, often emphasize upskilling to build trust among internal stakeholders. Many are also working to instill a culture of innovation. EmTech Accelerators are also more likely to say it’s very important for their workforce to be adaptable and flexible (76% versus 57%) and to have collaborative skills (79% versus 55%).

Flexibility and collaboration are especially important, since value from emerging technologies often comes from new sources. Throughout your company, employees without technical backgrounds may discover new applications. Business leads and technologists working together may come up with new solutions. Perhaps because emerging tech opportunities for sustainability are growing, EmTech Accelerators are also more likely (65% versus 44%) to deem green skills very important.

Where to start

  • Innovative solutions to the talent gap. For many of the Essential Eight technologies, there aren’t nearly enough specialists to meet demand. Instead of competing for scarce talent, consider cross-skilling. Look for people with “adjacent” skills that could be enhanced. Many of your technologists may be able and eager to learn skills quickly — and people from outside areas may help you adopt use cases from other industries to meet your needs. But don’t stop looking altogether just because the talent market’s tight. These things can change in an instant.
  • Transform culture. Emerging tech benefits greatly from new kinds of innovation and collaboration — such as employees blending their specialties into enterprise solutions. Change management can encourage this culture. You can, for example, reward employees who find ways to automate aspects of their roles with opportunities for higher value work.
  • Follow the data. To help improve investments in emerging technologies, create monitoring mechanisms to provide data on progress and help identify possible gaps. Besides traditional measures such as ROI, consider new ways to assess culture, innovation and how well your people are using reliable data to help make fact-based decisions.

3. Think convergence: Integrate your emerging tech

Emerging technologies play well together. IoT sensors, for example, produce data, which AI can gather and analyze for predictive maintenance, workplace safety, customer engagement and other uses. Blockchain and digital assets can not only help transfer value securely, but also engage customers and improve business processes — with the help of AI. Quantum and neuromorphic computing may soon provide exponentially greater computing power, which will help enhance everything from extended reality (XR), which encompasses both AR and VR environments, to GenAI personal assistants.

Over four fifths of EmTech Accelerators understand this integration imperative. This integration may be helping them implement more of the Essential Eight technologies across more parts of the business, especially because of data. The more that these technologies work together, the more data you can gather and use. This data can lead to better-performing tech and better-supported decisions for greater ROI today and possibly even more valuable implementations tomorrow.

Where to start

  • Get people engaged. Technologists often tend to work in silos unless you make it easy and rewarding for them to communicate. Whether it’s cross-functional teams or initiatives designed to draw on multiple technologies, build structures to foster communication and collaboration.
  • Set accountability. To help teams collaborate, make someone responsible for making that happen. If your emerging tech solution is for a product, for example, that person could be the chief product officer or the head of that line of business. Your CEO should be engaged too, making clear that emerging tech convergence is a priority.
  • Make GenAI your interface. GenAI can be for other tech what your smartphone is for many applications — an accessible way to use advanced technologies, even if they’re not your specialty. A GenAI, chat-based interface can, for example, help your VR specialists develop applications for advanced robotics.

4. Drive integration: Embed emerging tech into your business strategy

Only when emerging technologies are part of your business strategy can they fulfill their full potential. On their own, your technologists may not know or understand the products, services and experiences that your customers and employees need and desire. It’s your business and functional leads who have this information. When business leads and technologists collaborate — and align with existing tech systems and other transformation initiatives — they can transform both customer-facing and internal operations.

Business leads should work together to assess the company’s strategic goals. They can then work with technologists on a plan for how emerging tech, in conjunction with cloud and other technologies, can help meet these goals. These collaborations will be helpful as you continue to implement emerging technologies. They can help create value, accountability and trust. Key stakeholders will be more likely to trust that your tech initiatives will deliver valuable benefits if they were part of design and implementation.

Where to start

  • Integrate teams. Business and technology leads should be constantly considering short- and long-term plans together. In our GenAI factory, for example, the “pods” that work to transform lines of business combine technology and business experience.
  • Connect the technology dots. Consider how emerging technologies can better align with other key technologies you use. GenAI, for instance, can accelerate efforts to gather, organize and standardize disparate data sets.
  • Look for scale. Emerging tech won’t move the needle for your business if it’s just in the lab. Look for significant strategic challenges, for which EmTech at scale can deliver solutions.


Grey pattern

A spotlight on GenAI

It’s not just EmTech Accelerators pushing GenAI deployment. For all GenAI-related activities in our survey, more than two thirds of all respondents report that implementation is either already in progress or planned for the next 12 months. We believe this enthusiasm is justified. GenAI is so scalable, it can deliver ROI and business reinvention remarkably quickly.

EmTech Accelerators still stand apart. They’re more likely than other respondents to have already implemented GenAI to some extent (88% versus 54%), already implemented more GenAI related activities (seven versus four), already implemented governance around responsible GenAI (65% versus 33%) and already implemented data modernization to take advantage of GenAI (57% versus 30%). This concentration on governance and data modernization is especially important. Even the most powerful GenAI systems can deliver valuable, risk-managed results only with the help of rigorous governance, responsible use and data that’s reliable, compliant, bias-reduced and secure.

Where to start

  • Start with trust. Trust and risk management are especially important for GenAI since it’s so accessible to everyone. Start implementation with explicit usage policies, data governance and responsible AI practices.
  • Don’t fall into the use-case trap. GenAI can deliver ROI quickly — but not through isolated use cases. Look instead for how a single “pattern” of GenAI training can deliver value across your organization. GenAI’s ability to extract insights from unstructured data, for example, can transform multiple functions and lines of business. An AI factory — an operating model designed to identify, assess and deploy GenAI responsibly and quickly — can be an effective way to achieve value at scale.
  • Be tech-powered but human-led. GenAI can help your people be more productive and make better decisions — but it shouldn’t replace them. With GenAI, always keep humans in control: providing oversight and making high-value and high-risk decisions.

About the survey

Between August 16, 2023, and September 13, 2023, PwC surveyed 1,026 executives in the United States (468 in business roles, 558 in technology roles) on topics related to emerging technologies. Respondents are from companies across industries that have at least $500 million in revenue.

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