Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line transformed manufacturing in the early 1900s, and with the mass production of automobiles, cars became a mainstay of the modern world. Fast-forward 100 years, and a similar story is unfolding: Automation and software robotics have advanced to the point where it will soon be hard to imagine a time when a workplace operated without this technology.
The assembly line shook up factory workers’ jobs and changed their roles drastically, putting great pressure on them to produce products faster than ever. At Ford, that led to strikes and employee walkouts before the assembly line finally took hold.
Today, software-based automation has become an essential feature of the modern digital business. While its importance is akin to the introduction of the assembly line, it’s no secret that early adopters have also hit road bumps. But as with any significant business innovation, it's important to remember that there is no such thing as a simple workplace transformation.
To ease their way, CIOs need to learn from others, so they can capitalize on this new technology before they fall behind their competitors.
So, what are the three most important things every CIO needs to understand about a software robotics rollout?
1. Change begins in the C-suite
Humans are creatures of habit and prefer minimal disruption. Time and time again, studies find that people prefer stability, and this is especially true when it comes to their careers and being pushed out of their comfort zone.
With robotics, employees are encountering the biggest change yet. Panic and resistance are normal reactions, and widespread media fear-mongering over the so-called end of the job market has exacerbated these responses, which can negatively affect job performance and damage a company’s bottom line. To stem the hostility and win people to the benefits of software automation, it’s important to manage this change from the C-suite on down.
CIOs, in particular, must own their seat at the table and champion this shift. They need to work closely with their CEOs, who should serve as the face of this transformation and promote it across all departments and functions.
But it is up to the CIO to bring together business leaders from every sector and equip them with the training they need to roll out the new process. Whether the technology will be used to automate financial reports, streamline HR paperwork or consolidate sales leads, it is important for all executives to have a firm understanding of how the tech works and how it will impact their staff.
2. Walk first, then run
While automation is a key step towards laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence, CIOs should be wary of moving in this direction too soon. First, they need to prove the merits of the underlying technology by gathering some low-hanging fruit. And while every department should have an automation strategy and roadmap in place, the biggest gains can usually be achieved by beginning with the most inefficient parts of the business that stand to gain the most from automating their processes.
Frequently plagued by menial and repetitive tasks, the back office is often an ideal place for the CIO to get started, and the finance department is a great case in point. The accounting staff spends hours reconciling spreadsheets and crunching numbers and is frequently under tremendous pressure. This is supported by a recent survey, which found that over half of all accounting professionals are stressed at work on a day-to-day basis.
Trained to analyze financial data and give advice to decision-makers, that is a far cry from the typical accounting professional’s daily routine. But with robotics, accounting and finance professionals can be freed from the rote tasks that dominate their time to do what they do best—analyze data and advise their employers.
While it may be tempting for CIOs to deploy the latest and greatest “cognitive” tool, beginning the automation journey by providing proven technology to those who need it the most will lay a foundation for a successful, results-driven roll out across the wider business.
3. Make this an ongoing strategy
As with any major organizational change, employees will have many questions, and infrequent updates that offer few details will only aggravate their concerns. A far better policy is to communicate as much and as often as possible, even at the risk of information overload.
When rolling out any new tool or technology, it is important to develop a roadmap and timeline for the full scope of the project. This is especially relevant for CIOs deploying automation software and robotics, since a roadmap will help establish a timeline and the return on investment. Staff should be regularly briefed on these plans to secure their buy-in and ensure that they know exactly what to expect as the new software enters production. Such transparency will relieve a lot of the anxiety that comes with knowing one’s role will be altered.
Given the ongoing stampede of new digital technologies, the “innovate or die” mentality is putting tremendous pressure on CIOs, and automation and robotics will be their biggest challenge yet. But by rolling it out from the top down, over-communicating with employees and owning the mantra “walk before you can run,” today’s IT leaders can come out on top as the latest industrial revolution unfolds.