10 minute read 9 May 2024

How sustainability and AI top Irish technology leaders’ agenda

Ronan Walsh

EY Ireland Consulting Partner and Head of Technology Consulting

Skilled management consultant. Outstanding stakeholder facilitator.

Colin Reilly

EY Ireland Partner; SAP Practice Leader & Technology Consulting CIO

Colin leads EY Ireland's SAP delivery and systems integration services across all industry sectors.

10 minute read 9 May 2024

Technology leaders are prioritising sustainability, AI adoption, and cybersecurity, as their roles become increasingly pivotal in safeguarding their organisations.

In brief
  • As demand for skilled technology talent surges, organisations swiftly prioritise retention, upskilling, and attractive employee value propositions.
  • Interest in the potentially transformative use of AI is high, but investment in AI technologies and development of comprehensive AI strategies are notably lacking.
  • Sustainability management and reporting tools are seen as the most valuable technology for the next two years, yet the market for specialised sustainability technologies is nascent.

Ireland's technology landscape is primed for accelerated innovation, with organisations prioritising competitiveness, revenue growth, and market share. The EY Ireland Tech Leaders Outlook Survey 2024 highlights how amid unprecedented pace of innovation and associated digitalisation, organisations are prioritising data security and skills development while being cautiously optimistic about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI).

Many are actively pursuing transformation programmes with efficiency and IT cost reduction also high on the agenda. Also front of mind for technology leaders are cybersecurity and talent shortages. Overall, the survey points to a positive outlook with the perceived threat posed by economic disruption receding as IT budgets continue to be robust. However, technology leaders do report some challenges when it comes to securing backing and budget for cybersecurity measures.

EY Tech Survey chapter 1
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 1

Tech leaders emerge as protectors of the enterprise

From managing technology-related risk to driving focus on security and compliance, technology leaders are setting the vision for innovation.

In this pivotal period of transformation, technology leaders in Ireland are increasingly assuming an important leadership role in their organisations. Our survey highlights that technology leaders are primarily focused on operational concerns, with managing technology-related risk (43%), talent management (35%), and driving focus on security and compliance (27%) as their most critical role. Setting the vision for innovation and technology (25%) within the organisation was also cited as a key area of responsibility for technology leaders.

This expectation on responsibilities aligns with our findings on the most significant challenges faced by Irish technology leaders with managing cyber risk, managing talent, and managing data protection and flows featuring strongly.

Most significant challenges as an IT leader

What are the most significant challenges for you as an IT leader?
  • Chart description

    The chart highlights the most significant challenges faced by IT leaders. 38% cite increased cybersecurity risks as their biggest challenge. 37% point to difficulty in attracting, hiring, and retaining the right talent. Managing data protection and data flows is at 23%, while limited budget is at 13%. Finding the right third parties to support their needs was mentioned by 12% and 10% identify coping with regulatory changes as their top challenge. 10% reference inability to adopt new emerging technologies such as GenAI. Technical debt was identified by 3%, whilst 2% of respondents cite other challenges.

Photo of Ronan Walsh

“Technology leaders see themselves as not only the enablers of new business operations and objectives but also as protectors of the enterprise. They are focused on ensuring the organisation’s technology operates as intended, the systems are protected from cyber threats and the right talent is available within the IT organisation to keeps the lights on,” said Ronan Walsh, Consulting Partner and Head of Technology Consulting at EY Ireland

Many Irish technology leaders (40%) indicate their organisations are currently planning or executing a transformation or change programme. The drivers of these change initiatives are broadly in line with last year’s survey with improving quality of products/services, future-proofing the organisation against recession, staying ahead of or keeping up with competition and market disruptions, and growing revenue and / or market share at the top of the list. The survey suggests that change initiatives are being undertaken for largely positive reasons associated with the overall performance of the business.

Reflecting a notable shift from last year’s survey, having the right organisational culture emerged as the single most important success factor for transformation programmes. It rose from sixth place in 2023 to first, relegating strong cybersecurity and privacy to second. This rise likely stems from the post-pandemic return to office work, emphasising teamwork, collaboration, and interpersonal engagement, and indicates how shared cultural attributes critically shape an organisation's technological adaptation.
Talent remains a priority:
Shortage of skilled employees to implement new technology has been cited by 27% of the respondents as a significant barrier to executing their technology related agenda, up from 18% in 2023. The need to continue to find new talent is highlighted by the fact that 38% of respondents expect to increase the capacity and capability of their IT function over the next two years, slightly up from 2023.

Photo of Colin Reilly

“The competition for technology savvy talent continues and is unlikely to ease any time soon. Finding the right fit for a vacancy is more likely to take four to six months now, compared to two to three months prior to the pandemic. What’s clear is that retaining skilled staff is critically important as replacing them may not even be possible in today’s talent market,” said Colin Reilly, Partner, SAP Practice Leader and Technology Consulting CIO at EY Ireland.

To retain key talent, the organisation must maintain focus on the following areas:

IT budget: IT budget availability is not seen as a challenge. The great majority of the technology leaders surveyed expect their allocation to either remain the same or increase over the next two years. This is broadly in line with the 2023 survey, indicating a stable and positive outlook for IT investments.

  • Chart description

    The chart shows technology leaders’ responses on IT budgets for 2024 compared to 2023. In the 2024 survey, 53% of respondents report a similar level of spending to previous years, a slight increase from the 49% reported in 2023. Meanwhile, 40% of respondents indicate a significant increase in their IT budget for 2024, compared to 45% in the previous year.


EY Tech Survey chapter 2
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 2

A strategic push for sustainability

There’s a pressing need to prepare for the increase in volume and complexity of data to keep up with sustainability reporting requirements.

As technology leaders emerge as the protectors of the enterprise, they are increasingly looking to harness the power of technology to support their organisation’s sustainability efforts, enhancing the capability to establish, track, and oversee critical sustainability KPIs.

This is evidenced by the fact that sustainability management and reporting tools have been identified as the top technology that tech leaders believe will deliver the most value to their organisations over the next two years. It has jumped from 26% in 2023 to 43% in 2024, overtaking the mainstays of RPA, data, and augmented analytics and IoT. There is widespread appreciation that upcoming regulations are setting new sustainability standards and key performance indicators for organisations and technology will have to play a significant role in supporting their compliance.

Photo of Ronan Walsh

“It is heartening to see that technology leaders are not falling into the trap of underestimating the scale of the challenge presented by new sustainability reporting requirements in the form of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) and other regulations both in Europe and globally. They are taking on a strategic role in this area and are willing to invest in new solutions as they become available,” elaborated Ronan Walsh.

Top two emerging technologies to deliver the most value for the organisation

What two emerging technologies would deliver the most value to your organisation and therefore likely to attract the largest share of investment over the next two years?
  • Chart description

    The chart illustrates the top two emerging technologies that will deliver the most value to organisations and are expected to receive the largest share of investment over the next two years. Sustainability management and reporting tools are considered the leading technology by 43% of respondents. General AI/Machine Learning is cited by 33%, while 27% identify generative AI and employee assisted technologies. Process Automation, including RPA and IPA, is noted by 23%, and data and augmented analytics by 22%. Following these are the Internet of Things/5G/edge computing and enhanced productivity and remote collaboration tools, each at 18%. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology is recognised by 3% of respondents, with additive manufacturing/3D printing by 2%. Augmented or Virtual Reality, the Metaverse, and Quantum Computing each account for 2%. An additional 4% of respondents cited other technologies.

Half of the respondents say their organisation’s sustainability-related objectives will be supported using existing non-sustainability specific system capabilities, a relatively significant increase on last year’s survey. 39% say they will use sustainability specific tools, either standalone or embedded within their existing ERP solutions, for supporting sustainability objectives.

While the enthusiasm for new sustainability related tools is very welcome, it is still a nascent area. Organisations are having to respond quickly to requirements like CSRD using existing IT solutions. Yet, with increasing complexity in sustainability reporting, a need for advanced tools is emerging that is likely driving fast growth in sustainability focused technology markets.

There appears to be a high level of confidence in the ability to meet sustainability reporting requirements by using existing systems. However, organisations need to prepare for the vastly increased volume and complexity of data that will need to be reported and subject to assurance. With the CSRD already in force for larger organisations, time is limited for technology leaders to put systems in place to support compliance.
Dave O’Shaughnessy
EY Ireland Partner and Sustainability Reporting - Technology Lead

To effectively navigate the evolving landscape of sustainability reporting, technology leaders need to consider the following actions:


EY Tech Survey chapter 3
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 3

Discovering the hidden potential of AI, GenAI

Putting robust AI policies can help prevent data leakage and ensure data privacy.

As Irish organisations explore opportunities to become more efficient and increase market share in the face of competition, the adoption of AI is increasingly proposed as a key enabler for driving innovation. In light of this accelerating adoption, it’s notable that IDC predicts the implementation of new GenAI capabilities and automation will enable organisations to drive $1 trillion in productivity gains worldwide by 2026¹.

Our survey results show that Irish organisations are very interested in AI, with General AI / Machine Learning and GenAI and employee assisted technologies coming second and third, respectively, among emerging technologies that would deliver most value to the organisation over the coming two years. However, 62% of the respondents say they are currently not investing in AI technologies and do not have an AI related strategy.

Organisational approach to leveraging AI technologies

How is your organisation currently leveraging or considering the use of AI technologies?
  • Chart description

    The chart shows how organisations are currently leveraging or considering the use of AI technologies. 62% are not currently investing in AI technologies and do not have an AI related strategy. 31% reveal that they are exploring AI applications and evaluating potential use cases but are yet to formulate an AI strategy. 5% say that they have developed an AI strategy and are actively implementing new AI technologies for key use cases. 2% of respondents say AI is fundamental to their business and that they have already implemented numerous AI enabled use cases.

Interest in AI is growing, but technology leaders still need to understand the value case and find a technology path forward for it. Pending that, the majority are adopting a wait and see attitude, focusing on immediate pressing technology concerns like cybersecurity and cloud migration. In these circumstances, it is reasonable to expect some increase in investment in the technology in the near term, but the pace of adoption may remain relatively gradual.
Eoin O'Reilly
EY Ireland Partner, Head of AI & Data

Respondents to our survey identified a diverse range of GenAI use cases that could bring significant value to their organisations, but the more creative end of the spectrum came out on top. Legal and compliance review support and personal virtual assistance surprisingly came lower down the list.

Use cases for GenAI

Where the use of GenAI is permitted, what are the top two use cases where it is deemed to deliver the most value to your organisation?
  • Chart description

    The chart outlines the top two use cases for GenAI where it’s deemed to deliver the most value in organisations where its application is allowed. 33% cite creativity and design support, 29% point to educational tools (automated tutoring, content creation, etc.), and 27% mention customer service and support. This was followed by content creation (automated writing, copywriting, etc.) at 21% and sales and marketing data analysis and interpretation also at 21%. Software/code programming assistance was identified by 17% of respondents. 11% cite reporting and query support, and 11% say it is used for training and simulation support. Personal virtual assistants, and legal and compliance review support are both citied by 9% of respondents, respectively. 5% mention language translation and interpretation, and 7% cite other use cases.

The use cases for AI are still constrained by the adoption and understanding of the technology. GenAI models will not have out-of-the-box access to the data required to support core business applications, making them more suitable for personal use. This is expected to change as the main software vendors begin integrating GenAI into their products. Perceptions of the technology’s potential uses are likely to change as different use cases and applications for AI are brought to the market and proven.
Tim B. Morthorst
EY Ireland Technology Consulting Director – Digital & Emerging Technologies

The relatively low level of investment in AI is likely related to the lack of maturity of GenAI technology. While its potential is quite widely appreciated, its application is constrained by many factors including the lack of an accepted industry standard product. There is likely to be a prolonged tussle between providers before a winner emerges.

Organisations appear to have quite a relaxed approach to the use of GenAI by their employees and, quite alarmingly, 59% do not have a formal usage policy (i.e., do’s, don’ts, permitted, prohibited, etc.) but say unlicensed GenAI is most likely used by its employees.

Organisational stance in relation to the use of GenAI tools by employees

Which of the following statements best reflects your organisation’s stance on the use of GenAI tools by employees in support of business operations?
  • Chart description

    The chart reflects the organisation’s position in relation to the use of generative AI tools by employees in support of business operations. 18% indicate a prohibition on all generative AI tools within their organisation. 59% report the absence of a formal policy on AI tool usage (i.e., Do’s, Don’ts, permitted, prohibited, etc.) but say unlicenced GenAI is most likely used by employees. 3% cite use of unlicenced GenAI tools (e.g., ChatGPT, Bing, Bard, etc.) is permitted but under a strict usage policy. Another 3% say that the use of unlicenced GenAI tools is permitted under strict usage policies and that they are also investing in greater use of licenced GenAI tools to further argument capabilities (e.g., Microsoft Co-pilot, SAP, Joule, Salesforce’s CTRL, etc.). 13% have developed or are developing their own large language model and GenAI tools and are encouraging their employees to use these internal capabilities, while 4% cite other organisational stances.

This is both concerning and surprising as it seems to suggest a lack of appreciation for the potential security threat posed by unlicensed GenAI. These tools risk data privacy breaches and copyright infringement, leading to potential data leaks and increased cyber threats if not managed correctly.

As organisations accelerate their AI adoption, it is imperative that they also develop robust AI policies. These policies are crucial for guiding ethical AI usage, ensuring data privacy, and maintaining regulatory compliance. They are also vitally important for the prevention of data leakage and IP loss as a result of the unauthorised use of GenAI. By integrating strong governance with innovative AI applications, businesses can unlock new opportunities responsibly and sustainably, securing a competitive edge in the digital age.
Aarthi Kumar
EY Ireland Data & Analytics Director

Businesses must continue to monitor advances in AI and examine their potential value to ensure they do not lose ground to competitors. Organisations should remain firmly focused on the value case and avoid investing in technology for its own sake. 

EY Tech Survey chapter 4
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 4

Are metaverse and extended reality losing momentum?

Potential value of both technologies is yet to be realised and investments may be slow to come.

It is clear from the results of the EY Ireland Tech Leaders Outlook Survey 2023 and 2024 that both the metaverse and extended reality technologies are yet to convince Irish business and technology leaders of their potential value. Those that are tracking the technology as a potential future investment are also not planning to implement anything in the next two years.

  • Chart description

    The chart showcases organisations’ view/strategy regarding the Metaverse and extended reality (augmented, virtual, and mixed reality). 72% of respondents say Metaverse provides little or no value to their organisation, whilst 63% say that extended reality will provide little or no value to their organisation.

This is not to say that the technologies do not have their uses, but they tend to be quite niche. For example, while extended reality technology can be extremely useful in specific areas like training people who work in extreme environments or as a support tool for maintenance and repair engineers in the aerospace and high-end manufacturing sectors, it tends to be far too expensive for lower value applications where it is difficult to justify its added value. Indeed, the technology has in some ways become a solution seeking a problem in recent years.

A small but significant number of organisations continue to monitor the development of extended reality technology (28%) and the metaverse (18%) for the value they can bring. They may not be investing now but they are open to doing so in the future if use cases relevant to their organisations are established.
Orla Duffy
EY Ireland Technology Consulting Director

It would, however, be premature to predict the imminent demise of either of these technologies. After all, software as a service (SaaS) faced failure in the 1990s and early 2000s due to technical and cost barriers, yet it has since become the standard for many software offerings. 

EY Tech Survey chapter 5
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 5

Confidence in cloud adoption soars

Confidence in cloud technology surges with more than 80% of organisations either on the cloud or migrating to it.

There have been some significant changes in relation to cloud adoption since the EY Ireland Tech Leaders Outlook Survey 2023. The number of organisations hosting all their corporate systems on the cloud has more than doubled to 32% from just 15% in 2023, while the number using cloud for less sensitive data and retaining critical systems on premises has fallen quite dramatically from 39% to 17%.

The results indicate a surge in trust and confidence in cloud technology. Our surveys from the past two years show that Irish organisations have successfully made the switch from on-premise infrastructure to cloud-based solutions, aligned with modern release and change methodologies. The marked rise in cloud adoption underscores the recognition of its benefits, such as scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness, across industries.
Paul Browne
EY Ireland Partner, Head of Microsoft and Cloud Services Group

Organisational cloud strategy

Thinking about cloud in your organisation (private, hybrid or public), which of the following statements are true?
  • Chart description

    The chart compares organisations’ strategy and thinking around cloud (private, hybrid or public) for 2024 with 2023. 17% say they are adopting cloud for non-critical and less sensitive data and systems but will continue to manage their critical and sensitive data and systems on-premise, down from 39% last year. 33% say that they are pursuing a cloud strategy and are in the process of migrating away from on-premise infrastructure, compared to last year’s 26%. Whilst 18% respondents in 2024 say they do not intend migrating any systems to cloud infrastructure, 21% said so in 2023. 32% host all corporate systems in the cloud, an increase from 15% in 2023.

One third of respondents say they are pursuing a cloud strategy and are in the process of migrating away from on-premise infrastructure.

Conversely, just 13% of respondents described adopting greater use of cloud as one of the most important roles for senior technology leaders. This indicates the degree to which the cloud has matured as a technology and become the default for many organisations. Indeed, with more than 80% of organisations either on the cloud or migrating to it, the adoption phase would appear to be nearing its end. 

EY Tech Survey chapter 6
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 6

Cybersecurity at front and centre

Financial and other considerations somewhat constrain ability to put adequate defences in place.

Cybersecurity matters emerge as a key area of concern for technology leaders in Ireland, with anticipation of increasing challenges over the next two years. The percentage of respondents who identified elevated cyber risks and the management of data protection and flows as critical challenges has risen to 61%, a notable increase from 53% in 2023.

Interestingly, when it comes to challenges to the organisation’s growth over the next two years, cyber threats increased by precisely the same amount as economic disruption decreased. This could suggest that the diminishing prospect of a global recession has seen technology leaders renew their focus on cybersecurity and that the threat environment may not be significantly worse than it was last year. However, with hackers and other bad actors now adding GenAI and other advanced tools to their malign arsenal it is no surprise that cyber awareness has increased.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why a quarter of respondents pointed to their organisation’s vulnerability to cyberattacks as an area of concern.

Cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for tech leaders as cyber threats are constantly evolving and no organisation is insulated from a potent breach or its devastating consequences. Amid the surge of AI-enabled cyberattacks, technology leaders need to understand and plan for the emerging risk category. They must also establish if their organisations will be in scope of the NIS2 Directive² and understand their level of readiness and what they need to do to comply. Failure to comply can result in sanctions on individual business leaders and fines of up to €10 million or 2% of global turnover along with incalculable reputational damage.
Puneet Kukreja
EY UK & Ireland Cyber Security Leader

A significant number of respondents also say they do not have sufficient controls in place to identify and contain threats. From a positive perspective, this demonstrates an encouraging level of awareness of the evolution of the cyber threat scape and the growing sophistication of cybercriminals. On the other hand, cybersecurity does not feature at all among the top priorities for IT functions over the next two years.

Notwithstanding that apparent omission, the ability of the technology leaders to put adequate defences in place appears to be somewhat constrained by financial and other considerations. One of the more interesting findings from our survey is that the only area where they are experiencing any budgetary issues is cybersecurity.

Top two concerns regarding information security

What do you consider to be biggest challenge to your organisation’s growth over the coming two years?
  • Chart description

    The chart outlines the top two information security concerns for the next two years, with a comparative analysis between 2024 and 2023. A slight increase in concerns about the lack of awareness or sponsorship for security initiatives is noted, with 58% in 2024 versus 55% in 2023. The cost of cybersecurity and insurance is cited as a significant challenge for 53% in 2024, down from 57% in 2023. 25% say their current systems are vulnerable to specific types of attacks, up from 22% in 2023. The risk of major incidents leading to breaches has decreased slightly to 17% from 21%. 13% do not have sufficient controls in place to identify and contain threats in 2024 versus 10% in 2023. 12% cite not having a dedicated and resourced information security programme in 2024, compared to 8% in 2023. 12% say their vendors and partners are not sufficiently secure in comparison to last year’s 10%. 10% do not have some critical capabilities in place to manage risk exposure [e.g., Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and a Security Operations Centre (SOC)] in 2024 versus 18% in 2023.

The top two concerns expressed in relation to information security are lack of awareness and sponsorship for security related initiatives and the costs associated with cybersecurity and cyber insurance. This may point to a worrying disconnect between technology leaders and other senior leaders in organisations in matters of cybersecurity.

This could relate to the nature of the expenditure being sought. As a purely defensive measure, it is naturally difficult to estimate potential return on investment. Therefore, when cyber spend comes up against competing priorities at C-suite or board level, those with clear cost savings benefits or return on investment business cases are more likely to be favoured.

External factors also come into play and cyber insurance costs are increasing for all organisations in line with the evolution of the threat landscape. This is straining IT budgets available for cybersecurity spending.

Effective board representation is, therefore, crucial. Technology leaders with the ability to argue for cybersecurity investments face fewer budgeting challenges. They must have the ability to communicate the urgency of cyber threats to the C-suite and board members to secure the necessary support.


Interest in sustainability and AI and their value adding potential is increasing among Ireland’s technology leaders. The EY Ireland Tech Leaders Outlook Survey 2024 indicates that talent, transformation, and cybersecurity are among the other top priorities for them. Cloud is now in widespread use across the great majority of organisations, while the metaverse and extended reality technologies have failed to gain traction outside of highly specialised use cases. For the future, organisations will need to develop robust policies for AI usage and ramp up cybersecurity investment in response to a heightened threat environment.

About the survey

Research for the EY Ireland Tech Leaders Outlook Survey 2024 was carried out on behalf of EY by Empathy Research during February – March 2024. 150 people working in senior technology roles across a broad spectrum of organisations responded to the survey. The sectors covered for the survey were broadly financial services, advanced manufacturing, government and public sector, consumer products and retail, construction, food and beverage, biomedical technologies, power and utilities, agriculture, education, life sciences and leisure, tourism, and sport.

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About this article

Ronan Walsh

EY Ireland Consulting Partner and Head of Technology Consulting

Skilled management consultant. Outstanding stakeholder facilitator.

Colin Reilly

EY Ireland Partner; SAP Practice Leader & Technology Consulting CIO

Colin leads EY Ireland's SAP delivery and systems integration services across all industry sectors.