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A Chief Automation Officer can transform your business – here’s how

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Companies that do not have a digitization and automation strategy are unlikely to survive the next decade. Why? Because numerous technological advancements make it possible to free employees from a series of routine actions, so that they can focus on the most impactful areas of business.

Companies that embrace automation can have happier customers, more satisfied employees, and streamlined operations. From back-office tasks to the inspection of industrial complexes and production sites, there are tools and platforms to collect and analyze different types of data and take actions that automate repetitive tasks that previously required human effort.

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In the past two years alone, there has been a decade of digitization across industries as more and more organizations realize the need to automate their operations. This should be an alarm bell for those who do not yet have a digitization/automation strategy.

However, the huge opportunity for automation brings its own challenges. The growing number and variety of tasks that can be automated require careful oversight and planning. That is why you should consider appointing a Chief Automation Officer (CAO), a person who can monitor your company’s digitization and automation strategy, provide an overview of the digitization journey and ensure that your company is on track to success.

The underlying technology

The appeal of automation has been around for a long time and companies are looking for ways to automate routine tasks. But there are a few recent trends that have led to the explosion of automation opportunities across industries.

“Artificial intelligence is clearly a trend,” said Dinesh Nirmal, General Manager at IBM Data, AI and Automation. “It can help with intelligent automation, whether IT or industry.”

AI helps automate a wide variety of tasks, from processing images and scanned documents to summarizing text documents, finding meaningful correlations and clusters in large data sets, and transcribing audio files.

Enterprises also use AI in IT operations, usually called AIOpsincluding anomaly detection, event correlation, and explosion radius evaluation in case a service component becomes unavailable.

An interesting example is logistics and transportation company JB Hunt, which used IBM Turbonomic software to automate the scaling of its cloud and on-premise computing resources. For their on-premises environment, JB Hunt automates all non-disruptive actions 24×7 and scales non-production actions during a nightly maintenance window. In their public cloud environment, the team uses a combination of recommendations and automated actions to manage their resources.

Digitization is not possible without automation.

Over the course of 12 months, Turbonomic has performed nearly 2,000 resizing actions, which – assuming manual intervention requires 20 minutes per action – is more than 650 hours of the team’s time focus on strategic initiatives.

“Another technology is Robotic Process Automation (RPA),” says Nirmal. “In the industry, a lot of technology driven for automation is task-related.”

If a job requires many hours of manual data entry and button presses, chances are it can be automated RPA. Today, organizations use RPA to automate a wide variety of repetitive back-office tasks, such as extracting information, moving files, and filling out forms. The combination of RPA and AI helps organizations take automation to the next level and perform tasks that cannot be defined with explicit rules.

For example, insurance companies use AI and RPA to automate the processing of customer reports. An application that used to take weeks can now be processed in hours, thanks to RPA and AI technologies. One way is with computer vision algorithms that can assess damage from a photo of an accident and document processing tools that can extract and store the contents of scanned documents.

A fourth notable trend that Nirmal talks about is ‘process mining’.

Process mining is about figuring out which processes are ripe for automation. What is the ROI if I automate this process? How much time and resources will I save by automating that process? What other touchpoints does the process have?

Process mining uses information from business and IT systems and user interactions to provide factual insights on how to improve processes and workflows within an enterprise. For example, if software delivery requires multiple actions and file transfers across platforms, process mining helps organizations document those steps, build them into a graph, monitor their performance, and find ways to optimize and improve them.

An interesting case study is BlueShore Financial, a Canadian credit union that partnered with IBM to digitize and automate its operations. Initially, IBM BlueShore helped digitize 40,000 clients’ files and go completely paperless, saving the company 7,000 square feet of archive space. Digitization then led to the automation of complex workflows and business processes related to onboarding, mortgage renewals, auditing and more.

What is the role of the Chief Automation Officer?

“Automation helps with every aspect of business operations,” says Nirmal. “That’s why every enterprise needs a Chief Automation Officer focused on digitalizing the enterprise to delight customers and generate more business.”

Nirmal compares the role of the collective labor agreement to that of the Chief Data Officer (CDO). Before the CDO, organizations had an ambiguous amount of data, spread across different silos and systems. The CDO’s role was to come up with the right tools and strategies to provide a unified view of the organization’s data. The CDO became critical in areas such as business intelligence, data science, and machine learning, which must pull and process data from a variety of sources across the enterprise.

It can really improve employee morale and productivity.

Likewise, the CLA takes an overarching view of different industries of the company and looks for the best opportunities for digitization and automation. For example, in manufacturing, the CAO can help determine how computer vision can help automate defect detection. In the financial services industry, the collective labor agreement can help you find the right combination of tools to automate repetitive back-office tasks. According to Nirmal:

An enterprise is usually a large set of complex processes in business and IT. We need a person to work with the chief transformation officer, chief strategy officer, chief data officer and others to bring digitalization to the forefront. I believe that the focus of the collective labor agreement should be on the digitization of the company. Digitization is not possible without automation.

Automation finds its way into every department. According to IBM’s Global AI Adoption Indexcompanies use automation in various industries, including IT processes, business processes, marketing and sales, financial planning and analytics, etc.

At IBM, Nirmal helped several clients transition through the digitization and automation process and recognized the value of collective bargaining. He sees three common denominators in the benefits these organizations have achieved.

One is the optimization of resources within an enterprise. Two is productivity — I do believe it drives a tremendous amount of productivity in the enterprise that you can’t get otherwise. And three is the visibility of your business end-to-end, and how you digitize your business across industries.

The human side of automation

Nirmal says, “I think automation puts an enterprise in a much more stable shape, allowing them to become more agile, enabling them to do more meaningful work.”

For example, from an employee productivity perspective, the right automation tools can ease the burden of repetitive tasks and allow employees to focus on more meaningful endeavors, such as innovation.

“Often, automation allows workers to focus on higher value tasks,” says Nirmal. “For the employee, the great benefit is that it frees them from routine tasks and frees them up to look at things from an innovation or differentiation perspective. It can really improve employee morale and productivity, optimization, etc.”

But the biggest goal that every company should focus on is, of course, to improve customer satisfaction.

“The end product is how you help create happy customers. For me, you need automation to achieve that,” says Nirmal.

He sees this as the future of the company, making the Chief Automation Officer role key to success.

The next decade will be dominated by intelligent automation. Enterprises will need to invest in automation to survive and succeed or they may not exist. It’s a profound statement, but I think it’s critical because your competition will invest in it. It ensures customer satisfaction. If you don’t have satisfied customers, you clearly aren’t in a position to win.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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