Last year’s global digital transformation (DX) impetus has been paying off, according to one legal firm’s annual survey.

Based on a survey of 500 senior buyers of digital services and technology across the US, the UK, Brazil,  France, Germany, Australia, China and Singapore, a law firm has reached the conclusion that cybersecurity is now a driving factor in global digital transformation, with mining, storing and securing data topping the list of priorities for companies around the world.

At the same time, according to the firm’s report on DX and cloud trends, the benefits of investing in DX and cloud computing were becoming much clearer, with cost savings and greater efficiencies being realized by three quarters of respondents.

Other findings in the small annual survey include:

  • Respondents were more focused on realizing the commercial benefits of their digital transformation programs than they were a year ago, moving from agility as the leading benefit previously, to protection, cost savings and efficiencies in 2021.
  • The top three areas of digital investment by companies globally were related to storing, mining/monetizing and securing data: cloud computing (85%), AI and machine learning (80%) and cybersecurity (71%).
  • In addition to the major focus on cybersecurity, the importance of AI to companies has also jumped in 2021. In 2020, only 14% of survey respondents were heavily investing in AI. In 2021, nearly half of leaders surveyed believed AI was core to their DX efforts.
  • In terms of specific technology driving DX, migration to the Cloud remained at the forefront, with cost reductions continuing to provide respondents with a strong impetus to continue.  There remained lingering concerns around data privacy and cybersecurity, with a focus on cloud contracts that allowed organizations to bake-in appropriate protections up front.
  • Responding organizations were split on the buy-or-build question: 28% opted for on-boarding off-the-shelf tech solutions, 29% chose to build their own, and 43% adopted a mix of both.
  • Future investment priorities cited had centered on communications (5G), customer engagement (e-commerce) and remote-working.

Reflecting on the conclusions made from the data, Adam Aft, Global Co-Lead, Technology Transactions (Chicago), Baker McKenzie, the firm that commissioned the survey, said: “In 2020, 58% of respondents (digital leaders) indicated that the pandemic had accelerated their plans for DX and cloud migration, with particular investments in cybersecurity, talent and customer insight. One year on, the data shows DX has evolved from being an urgent effort to becoming a permanent part of the enterprise—with organizations launching and scaling DX activities and tackling cybersecurity as a priority.”

DX legal and regulatory pressures

According to the report, legal and regulatory frameworks governing the DX had continued to evolve, but the pace of technological adaptation will only accelerate as organizations follow-through on their plans to implement more sophisticated technology as part of their DX journey (blockchain, predictive analytics, AI, etc.).

Respondents in the survey that found the most success in navigating the overlap of emerging tech and evolving legal frameworks were those with strong collaboration between the commercial and legal teams across functions within the enterprise.

According to the firm’s Asia Pacific Head of Intellectual Property and Technology (Hong Kong), Isabella Liu, the speed of technology advancement in the survey period had largely outpaced legal developments. “The EU is generally seen as leading in legal framework developments that regulate the digital economy arising from digital transformation. For example, the proposed Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act by the European Commission seek to increase the transparency of large online platforms and to enhance the EU’s regulatory environment for digital technologies. Other legislation includes the Digitalization Act in Germany, which seeks to create a new antitrust framework for the digital economy.”

In mainland China, Liu noted, the government’s focus had been to limit the power of digital technology companies, to improve cybersecurity and data security, as well as to enhance personal information protection—by the recent introduction of the Personal Information Protection Law. “For the adoption of any new digital technology, businesses are advised to align internal work flows (which can be multi-jurisdictional) and undertake thorough risk and impact assessments to work through the relevant legal and regulatory issues,” Liu commented.