Executive need to listen

RESEARCH | January 14, 2022 | 4 min read

The race to optimize business

Our latest optimization survey reveals how global executives are automating business processes and increasing productivity

By Evan Ramzipoor, Workflow contributor

As businesses pivot to a digital-first approach to products, services, and experiences, many are also simplifying and automating processes—key elements of a process known as optimization that can improve organizational speed and agility.

To understand how companies and public entities are optimizing operations, ServiceNow and ThoughtLab surveyed nearly 1,000 C-level executives worldwide representing five sectors: manufacturing, telecom, healthcare, financial services, and the public sector.

The full report is available to download. Here’s a preview.

Measured by the number of companies in each industry that are using advanced technologies to optimize, manufacturing is the furthest along in this area and the public sector is the least advanced. Most companies fall into the intermediate category, indicating they are actively investing in optimization but are not yet leaders.

Another measure of maturity grades industries by their usage of specific tools to optimize. Ordered this way, financial services comes out on top, with telecom next, then manufacturing and healthcare, followed by the public sector.

“​​Financial services is now taking more steps than other industries, even manufacturing, to optimize processes. Mired in coping with the health crisis, healthcare is doing less today, but in 1–2 years it plans to do more than all other industries to optimize processes,” according to the report.

Any way you cut the data, the public sector is the least optimized of the six sectors. Over the next few years, survey respondents from every industry indicated they plan to focus on optimizing their sales, marketing, and human resources departments.

Of all industries surveyed, manufacturing sees the highest average value from optimization steps (47% vs. an industry average of 41%). The greatest value comes from low-code platforms, which enable manufacturers to fast-track automation apps.

Larger companies are doing better at optimizing than smaller ones: 27% of companies with $5 billion or more in revenue are considered leaders, according to the report, compared with 16% of orgs with $1 billion to $4.99 billion in revenue, and just 6% of those with less than $1 billion in revenue.

Faced with the major disruptions caused by the pandemic and the resulting need to accelerate digital transformation, more than one-third of companies took steps to optimize risk management and cybersecurity.

Digital transformation remains vitally important to top executives. Executives say their biggest optimization priority is modernizing IT platforms and systems. Private and public entities are improving coordination across departments and functions and are integrating digitized workflows into enterprise platforms. These priorities indicate executives’ desire to bridge silos, promote data-sharing, and foster collaboration.

In the coming years, executives say they will prioritize integrating business partners and suppliers into these new processes and establishing enterprise-wide optimization teams.

Optimization investments: Leaders vs. non-leaders:
  • 65% of leaders are modernizing IT platforms and systems to optimize business processes, compared to 56% of non-leaders.
  • 60% of leaders are improving coordination across departments and functions versus just 44% of non-leaders.
  • 57% of leaders are pursuing optimization training and upskilling compared to 37% of non-leaders.
  • 41% of leaders provide simplified technology user experiences to help drive optimization, while only 18% of non-leaders do.

“Leaders have come to learn that providing leading-edge technologies to staff is not enough. These tools also must be developed in ways that are accessible and meaningful to workers,” according to the report.


of companies are modernizing IT platforms and systems to boost optimization



CEOs recognize that organizations are moving beyond digital transformation, which is static, and into process optimization, using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technologies to evolve on the fly.




COOs reported being responsible for building an optimization vision and culture at their companies. A majority also lead efforts to coordinate optimization across departments and to simplify and continuously improve processes. They uniformly see the benefits of low-code platforms, which help democratize advanced technologies for use by non-technical staff.

Remarkably, 100% of COOs using low-code platforms attest to their ability to drive high or very high value—much more than any other C-suite executive, including the CIO.



Like COOs, CIOs overwhelmingly see the value of low-code platforms, though only about half say they are in charge of it, which makes sense as the technology is intended to offer non-programmers greater autonomy from IT departments. At the same time, 92% of CIOs said they make use of low-code versus 62% of all CxOs.


Although CCOs do not lead efforts to optimize companies, they do participate in almost all efforts to optimize across departments and to build a corporate culture that welcomes such efforts (from which they see high value). Compared with other C-levels, they also see high value in systems that help continuously improve processes. Like CHROs, they do not see value in low-code or digitized workflows, which they might not be familiar with.


Not surprisingly, CHROs are responsible for defining roles and recruiting optimization specialists. Many also lead training or retraining of employees to achieve company optimization goals. At the same time, one-third of CHROs saw value in digitizing workflows, 15% less than other C-levels, and none saw high value in using low code.


Low-code tools simplify development by breaking down common programming tasks into simple building blocks, allowing people with no prior knowledge of software or development to build business applications.

Companies currently using low code are seeing benefits, survey respondents said. Executives say low code is an effective way to enable collaboration and digitize processes. Low-code platforms are a priority for financial services and telecoms, while healthcare and the public sector are the furthest behind.


Rate that low-code adoption will increase during the next two years


 About Low-code platforms

Related articles

Don’t neglect your employee experience
Don’t neglect your employee experience

Finding Australia’s new common wealth: Why ethical AI, human-machine teams, digital identity and diverse perspectives will transform the next decade

Innovation delivers on promise
Innovation delivers on promise

New research shows that innovation drives revenue, improves products and services, and lowers costs

Innovating through uncertainty
Innovating through uncertainty

Companies face an array of challenges. Technology that increases productivity and efficiency offers a clear solution.

From the lab to the platform
From the lab to the platform

Valérie Bécaert relies on her scientific background to translate AI research breakthroughs into enterprise software products


Evan Ramzipoor is a writer based in California.

Loading spinner