Protectionism is the No. 1 risk facing India, according to IT industry body NASSCOM’s first ever CEO survey on growth drivers and key risks for the year 2019-20.

The survey, at the NASSCOM Technology and Leadership Forum 2019 in Mumbai, is the first step in moving away from releasing an annual revenue guidance for the industry, said the body.

The findings of the survey show that 44% of the 100 CEOs who participated expected global economic and business sentiment in 2019 to be somewhat lower than last year. 53% of the respondents said global technology and business process management (BPM) spending this year will be the same as 2018; however, 13% believe it will decline.

In terms of priorities for companies when it comes to spending in 2019-20, digitisation of the business emerged as the top priority for 29% of the CEOs, while enhanced efficiency and modernisation was picked as the top priority by 23% of respondents. Meanwhile, enhancing customer experience was picked as the second most important area by 35% of the CEOs.

Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) bagged the top spot when it came to technological priorities, with 54% CEOs calling it their first priority. Hybrid cloud and cybersecurity emerged as the other key areas of spending with 17% picking the former as top priority and 34% giving it the second position; 26% CEOs picked cybersecurity as their first priority and 29% as the second most important area. These findings indicate that spending by all I.T. firms across the globe on the above areas is likely to see a significant increase in the 2019-20 period.

For the I.T. industry in India, 47% CEOs said they expect 2019 to be somewhat better than 2018 while 32% said they don’t expect any change and 19% expected a decline. In terms of technology skills and hiring sentiment in 2019, 45% respondents said 2019 will be better than last year while 43% see no change. Large deals for digitalisation emerged as the top priority for CEOs in terms of key growth drivers closer home, with 36% respondents giving it the top spot. Meanwhile, 32% CEOs picked enhanced business opportunities in Europe and APAC regions as the second most important aspect.

Speaking at the launch, Debjani Ghosh, president, NASSCOM, said, “CEO Sentiment for 2019-20 is cautiously optimistic in the backdrop of concerns of global macroeconomic risks. Digitalisation initiatives are at the core of business transformation and may be less impacted by somewhat lower growth in major economies. The sector will continue to invest in building products and platforms, upskill its talent pool and drive greater collaboration across the ecosystem”.

Historically, NASSCOM’s revenue guidance has been treated as a benchmark for the industry. However, industry leaders have aired concerns about the impact that the guidance has on investor sentiment, for investors tend to punish the stock of a company falling short of the guidance. Last year, Rishad Premji, chairman of the industry body, was quoted in media reports as saying that NASSCOM will look at different parameters, qualitative and quantitative, to arrive at an outlook for the sector.

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