NEW YORK: Few executives doubt that digital engagement of customers is becoming increasingly important but a new survey has found that many face significant obstacles to achieving this in terms of their organisations' understanding and internal structures.

McKinsey, the consultancy, surveyed 850 C-level executives, representing a full range of regions, industries, and company sizes, asking about their spending on and organising of digital work. It found that more than one third expected that digital would drive at least 15% of their companies' growth in the next three years.

Digital customer engagement was seen as a strategic priority for achieving this goal, being ranked in the top three digital trends by 69% of respondents, ahead of digital innovation of products or business models which attracted a 64% response.

Big data and analytics ranked third in this list (45%), followed by digital engagement of employees and suppliers (44%) and digital customer life-cycle management (40%). At just 34%, automation was lowest of executives' digital priorities even though, McKinsey noted, it had an important role to play in those sectors facing digital disruption by, for example, lowering customer transaction costs.

But achieving these priorities was made more difficult by a lack of digital talent, which executives saw as the single biggest issue they faced. Unsurprisingly, smaller companies (with less than $1bn in revenue) faced greater recruitment hurdles.

Around 90% of executives indicated an urgent need for digital talent in the next year, especially in the area of analytics, but big data and advanced analytics was the area where they were least likely to feel that enough was being invested to meet goals.

Company structures were the second most problematic area, and here the situation was reversed as the larger businesses (with revenue over $1bn) were far more likely to say their structures were geared towards legacy channels and were too inflexible to take advantage of the new opportunities offered by digital.

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff