CIOs versus Robots: 7 Ways Robotic Process Automation Impacts the Role of CIO

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We must say from the very beginning that we do not actually need to include ‘versus’ when describing the relationship between CIOs and software robots. In fact, the idea of your business making progress with the help of RPA is more meaningful if you focus on exploiting the potential of a joint venture between robots and chief information officers.

But in order to get there you should first consider both how RPA impacts CIOs, and the reverse direction of influence. By so doing, you are more likely to substantiate the prospect of successful collaboration between CIOs and robots.

Nonetheless, the perception of opposition between IT teams and software robots used in business is justified. Alex Kozlov, Content Director and Technology Evangelist at Softtek, mentions that especially in the early days of robotic process automation, it was mostly the business crews who dealt with software implementation and maintenance, with only marginal consultancy of IT practitioners. But, as the song goes, “times are a-changin’ ”, and for very good reasons which we will touch upon.

For instance, Paul Singer (Director) and Siddhartha Sharad (Senior Associate) from Pace Harmon raise attention that extending automation at enterprise level, after the initial smaller-scale implementation in specific departments, requires assistance from the IT team.

That is to say, in order to take full advantage of the benefits of digitalization, the perspective should not be in terms of ‘either software robots via business units, or Business Process Management solutions (BPMs) via IT units’, rather in terms of collaboration for shared goals, in accordance with a wise division of labour.

At this point we expect some risen eyebrows: ‘What do you mean by a wise division of labour?’. The discussion below about how robotic process automation impacts CIOs should give some directions for what ‘wise’ can be inferred to mean in this context.

Let us assume that RPA and IT work together to promote successful development of your company. How can this be achieved? Well, let us see first how this collaborative enterprise affects the role of CIOs so that the assumption turns into a ‘happy end’ story.

1. CIO contribution is crucial for suitable RPA implementation

This is perhaps the most obvious and direct touch of RPA onto the function of CIOs. No one would deny that the IT team should have a word to say in the process of implementing robotic process automation. RPA technology requires installation on a server, and who else, if not the IT people, are best suited to handle this?

CIOs, with their top position in the IT department and corresponding technical skills, are thus essential contributors to flawless implementation. You should never forget that this increases tremendously the chances of obtaining (and maintaining) the desirable effects from automation.  

2. CIOs as forward-looking agents

This is a corollary of (1) above. Involvement in the enlarged scale RPA development requires thinking ahead to build cross-department attuned strategies, and to anticipate potential issues before they negatively impact the progress. Therefore CIOs must endorse this dynamic, even revolutionary at times, role.

3. CIOs as promoters of change in the direction of teamwork

Chief information officers are the ones who can drive the constructive involvement of their IT staff in the business unit. This is to say that CIOs can actually be the agents of change of the combative relationship between the two units - IT and business.

According to Dennis Walsh, President of Redwood Software, this would be a “strategic change” from both perspectives. The change would be beneficial for RPA in the sense that it would provide an accurate long-term game plan, including potential expansions at enterprise level.

4. CIOs as ‘central processing units’ for RPA at enterprise level

The expansion of RPA requires executive monitoring to ensure that ‘everything fits together’ from a technical point of view at the business level. After all, CIOs are the ones who have control over IT resources, so their supervision of its use for the RPA infrastructure is a must.

Because of their deep understanding of the technology, CIOs can ensure the appropriate degree of IT oversight of a holistic implementation of RPA, thereby optimizing IT performance and resource allocation. Relatedly, the CIO can establish an appropriate standard of scalability that the designed robots should comply with.

5. RPA impacts CIOs by providing a choice of user-friendly tools for processing customer requests

CIOs are essentially involved in the choice of the right tools for handling customers’ modification or enhancement demands. According to Information Age, software robots could at least partly fulfill some of these demands faster and more easily than human employees. The CIO should then select from the request inventory those that are amenable to an automated solution. This gives a nice flavour of the concrete positive effects of joint work between robots and CIOs.

6. CIO with a person-centred role

It may sound counterintuitive and paradoxical, right? After all, these people are the IT directors, and IT is by definition not centred on humans. Well, precisely because they are IT directors, CIOs have overall knowledge about the technical ABCs of automation. Therefore they can properly explain it to employees, educating them so as to move beyond the mythology of “robots will steal our jobs”.

CIOs can ensure continuous training for employees who would thus be able to keep up with the dynamic RPA environment. Along the same humanistic, person-centred lines, the CIO can also educate the IT team about RPA, explaining that it complements (and not replace) IT-based automation tools like software development toolkits (SDKs) or BPMs. Moreover, (5) above is also an instance of CIO’s role in customer relations, which is a person-centred function by definition.

7. CIOs can get involved in organizing an RPA Centre of Excellence (COE)

This piece of advice comes courtesy of  Paul Singer and Siddhartha Sharad from Pace Harmon, based on concrete examples of successful use in medium and large companies (we have also recommended establishment of a COE as an RPA practice for maximum gain). The COE has been proven to provide support for choice of the most appropriate processes to be automated, as well as for optimal governance of the use of resources (the COE thus seems an appropriate step to take, from the perspective of (4) above).

A Centre of Excellence can be very useful in preventing redundancies (and hence buttress wise resource allocation) by adapting RPA tools to fulfill different functions in an IT project. A CIO’s technical expertise makes her the most entitled person to organize a Centre of Excellence.  

Conclusion

It is now clear that robotic process automation impacts CIOs in several positive ways, those that we touched upon being merely the tip of the iceberg. All in all, it seems that RPA might be just what is needed to promote cooperation between business and IT departments, for a comprehensive benefit of the company as a whole but also for each unit’s respective gain.

CIOs who actually take advantage of the potentials derived from the adoption of RPA, and make best use of the impact of robotics on their role in the overarching enterprise scheme, are the perfect example of innovative minds set on action.

In other words, of minds that endorse innovation and act upon it a minute later. Minds of this kind pass on their routine activities (like reporting, or ticket documentation) to software robots who can handle them faster and more efficiently, and therefore can afford to stay focused on strategic long-term plans. Such minds guide proactive behaviour, pave the way for further adoption of novel technologies, and foster collaboration between business and IT units. They are like the witnesses of ‘a marriage made in heaven’ between business and IT.