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4 steps for CIOs to take their first foray into automation

Automation now touches every industry and expanding fields of work. Farmers deploy mechanical robots to pick crops. Business executives use software robots to manage spreadsheets. Software engineers even have tools that can take over many processes in the application development lifecycle.

Today, there is an array of automation or robotics solutions that can be applied to virtually any task – from chatbots like Amazon’s Alexa to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

With such a massive assortment of options, how is a chief information officer to know where to start if they want to get in on the automation craze?

Forrester’s Robotics Quotient (RQ) is a measurement of how competent a company will be at an automation implementation. The assessment is based on four principles: people, leaders, organizational structures and trust. Using this framework as a starting point, CIOs can better understand whether their business is ready to jump right into an AI implementation, or whether a more simplistic automation tool will offer them more value.

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While it may seem appealing to bring in a cutting edge machine learning or predictive analytics solution at the start of this journey, the CIO’s mantra for success with such technology should always be “walk before you run.” Implementing simpler automation solutions with proven track records will set the foundation for success with more futuristic technologies down the line.

Using the RQ as a reference point, here are four ways CIOs can prepare their business for their first foray into automation.

1. Change starts at the top

When initiating a change that impacts many levels of an organization, getting executives on board ahead of time is key. For a drastic shift in technology like automation that can strike initial resistance and anxiety in some staff, it is up to the CIO to be the c-suite champion and manage this change from the top, filtering it down to the rest of the business.

Silos are a stark barrier to success of a new process or technology, making it crucial that everyone, at all levels in the business embraces the change. The CIO is responsible for equipping leaders with the information they need to educate their teams and get them on board for a positive rollout.

2. Tackle bottlenecks first

With the recent hype and panic about robots stealing jobs, introducing such technology into the enterprise can be a daunting task for any CIO. It is crucial to roll out the technology in the areas where it will provide the most return, most quickly, and to proceed in a measured way. By incrementally proving benefits and ROI, CIOs will alleviate fear and resistance.

In many enterprises, the back office is a bottleneck hiding in plain sight. This includes departments like marketing, legal, finance and human resources – the areas not typically visible to customers but paramount to the wider success of the business. These teams are often mired in repetitive and error-prone work, making them ideal candidates for automation support.

By giving the mundane work to robots, back office staff are better able to focus on strategic, creative and people-centric activities. These are the activities that are more likely to move the needle for the business, than say, reconciling a spreadsheet.
While it is a relatively simple form of automation, streamlining the back office by cancelling out repetitive work enables enterprises to make a tangible difference for individual staff and the larger business.

3. Invest in upskilling staff

While enterprise workers need not fear being replaced by robots, it is true that the nature of many of their roles will transform. When automation takes over routine and repetitive work, humans will be freed up for more strategic activities. However, for many staff to do so, they will require some level of training or upskilling to be able to continually offer the most value to the business.

Automation in the enterprise is paving the way for both new skills and entirely new roles. It is not only the responsibility of the organization to educate and empower employees to succeed in their changing jobs by equipping them with new skills, but it is in their best interest to nurture existing talent.

4. Develop a culture of trust

Perhaps the most essential element to a successful automation rollout is the most innately human. Without trust between staff and leadership, any large scale organizational or technological change can fail.

Trust is the result of transparency from leadership, and the over-communication of organizational goals that defines every employee’s role in a new initiative. With the CIO at the helm of an automation transformation, and the above elements in place, humans and machines can work together to boost productivity and employee growth in any organization.

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