There’s no denying that a readiness to evolve with the market is among the most underrated traits of strong leadership. Whether rolling out mobile technologies, embracing cloud computing or investing in systems that enable a seamless experience, the ability to re-imagine outdated models and make space for customer-centric strategies are digital innovation catalysts for modern-day success.

According to the 18th Global CEO Survey, an annual report conducted by PwC, Australian CEOs are well-versed in the benefits of this approach. The survey, which considered responses from top-tier businesses such as Woolworths, Qantas and BHP Billiton, found that Australian leaders are much likelier than their international counterparts to recognise the way the shifts in customer behaviour sparked by the digital age will disrupt their industries in the next five years. Here are some of the most compelling findings from the Global CEO Survey – and why they’re proof of the growing link between innovation and leadership.

Customer expectations outweigh what companies can actually deliver

Although Australian companies are often perceived as conservative when it comes to online innovation, the Global CEO Survey discovered that homegrown business leaders are increasingly conscious of the ways in which new technology is turning old business models on their head. Nine out of 10 Australian CEOs say that understanding and responding to the impact of digital technology on customer behaviour is the biggest concern they face. But unfortunately, awareness doesn’t always translate to action – the expectations of Australian customers currently far outpace what local businesses are able to deliver.

Data mining and analysis are high priority for Australian CEOs

In the last few years, a proliferation of new customer touchpoints has seen mastering the art of capturing and analysing data become central to building relationships that stand the test of time. Luckily, Australian CEOs – who once struggled with outdated legacy systems famous for breeding inconsistencies that spelt disaster for the customer experience – are swiftly adjusting to our new, data-driven world. Ninety percent of company heads surveyed ranked data mining and analysis as the most strategically important digital technology – proof of the growing belief that granular customer insights are the secret to loyalty and competitive edge. The report also found that 86% identify cyber security as being crucial to their business, 86% think mobile platforms are important, 76% feel that cloud computing is a worthwhile investment and a further 76% believe that it’s worth prioritising the Internet of Things.

Digital innovation bolsters operational efficiency, customer experience and collaboration

Australian CEOs might have different perspectives on essential digital technologies but share the belief that these technologies are central to growth. Eight out of every 10 CEOs surveyed reveal that digital is adding value in terms of operational efficiency, 83% say that it has significantly improved customer experience and 83% confirm that online platforms have substantially improved collaboration. However, the realm of digital development and innovation sees Australia lagging far behind its global peers. This reflects a recent PWC Digital IQ survey which found that only 20% of respondents understand both the value of technology as well as how to knit it into the fabric of their organisations.

Although the Global CEO Survey suggests that digital intelligence is sharpening around the country, there is still ample room for improvement. For instance, Australian CEOs might be adept at striking the right alliances but they struggle to develop their own ability to innovate. Funding innovation initiatives that focus on digital, hiring leaders from outside the industry and re-aligning a performance management structure so that innovation is rewarded can help Australian businesses grow in leaps and bounds. It’s clear that digital instincts are already in place – but instinct alone is only part of the battle.

For more information about how digital innovation can help Australian CEOs drive growth download the 18th Global CEO Survey.