Which Members of an Organization Should be Responsible for Task Automation?
Business automation is a recent trend that has the potential to transform SMEs – as well as large enterprises – by altering the way digital technologies are utilized on a daily basis. Both business processes and business operations can greatly benefit from the optimal use of digital assets within a company. In an age of increased technological breakthroughs that have the ability to give businesses more integration, increased productivity, and reduced overhead, often the question is not what digital systems to use in an organization, but how to optimally utilize and leverage such systems within an enterprise’s IT infrastructure.
Since the purpose of IT systems is to increase productivity, enhance workflow efficiency, increase silo integration, and reduce overhead – while providing novel approaches to solve problems and new potential products/services to offer – it is crucial that IT systems are optimized in order to allow personnel to make the best use of their time.
Several studies have indicated that, across all sectors within the U.S. economy, lost workplace productivity costs companies up to 1 trillion dollars every year, largely due to personnel being unable to work in the most optimal manner, or due to personnel being required to utilize exorbitant amounts of time on menial, repetitive tasks. Additionally, according to a study by Cornerstone, work overload decreases employee productivity by 68 percent when such personnel feel unable to complete their tasks within the timeframe available to them. At the same time, while most reports indicate that more engaged personnel are increasingly productive, stats show that, overall, productivity in the U.S. workplace is declining. Thus, it is important to note how pivotal time is as a business asset, and how crucial it is for personnel to manage their time and to be leveraged by managers with tasks that are appropriately delegated. Additionally, according to a study, 40 percent of productivity is lost due to task-switching and multi-tasking, which is why streamlining and integrating IT system/digital asset applications is key in any business. One of the best ways to increase workplace productivity, and to reduce overhead, workplace injury, financial costs and even training requirements, is to optimally use a company’s IT infrastructure with digital labor via automation. As noted by an MIT Sloan survey, executives at 91 percent of the companies surveyed indicated that digital technologies have the ability to fundamentally transform the way their enterprises do business. While there are several methods of reducing overhead and optimally using IT systems in a more efficient manner, the utilization of automation systems is one of the most pertinent methods in today’s global ecosystem of digital enterprises for transforming the way companies work.
Automation is fundamentally a method of increasing the productivity of business processes and, consequentially, business operations. While there are several possible Chief Officer roles in charge of automation in a company, that role often falls to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) within most businesses. However, for larger enterprises, a newer role, the Chief Automation Officer (CAO) is often required, while the Chief Process Officer (CPO) may fill the role in order to ensure that all business processes are streamlined and carried out optimally. Additionally, automation can be linked to (but not typically managed by) the Chief Data Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, for the automation of data analysis and the automation of marketing workflows, respectively.
What is Task Automation?
Task automation is a method of increasing the productivity and efficiency of business processes by using digital labor as opposed to manual (human) labor, typically for menial and repetitive tasks. However, with the advent of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced automation can include the completion of advanced tasks that allow AI systems and skilled personnel to complete additional processes that automation software applications are unable to complete by themselves. While digital automation is a very broad spectrum of technologies that encompass many methods of automated task solutions, in a business sense, automation is used in many ways, including: adding additional workplace assistance within departmental silos to decrease overhead, aligning strategies between departments by utilizing integrated automation software, and increasing business agility and offering innovations into a business pipeline in a more feasible manner (via automation tests). Also, both CIOs and Operations personnel are able to leverage the power of automation software and hardware in order to utilize three major advantages that automation (software and hardware) applications offer:
- Reduce: Automation systems are often utilized to reduce the number of steps required to complete a specific task.
- Streamline: Within the area of data science, and virtually every IT process within a company, streamlining data analysis application usage and daily workflows can greatly increase a company’s efficiency and productivity, all of which can increase the bottom line.
- Replace: While automation systems are capable of reducing the steps that are necessary for the completion of certain business tasks and processes, completely replacing human labor with digital labor is a valid way to reduce overhead and financial costs within a company, and a way to reduce possible risks of injury (since automation does not only include software automation, but can include automation of physical labor via robotic/hardware systems).
Automation software applications help CIOs manage automation systems by reducing the internal to-do list associated with all personnel of a given department, allowing routine, recurring tasks to be completed by digital systems and increase corporate productivity. The integration and streamlining of tasks between departmental silos also allows for more efficient task completion and better workplace communication.
Within the IT department, when automation systems are utilized efficiently, software developers, testers, and operations admins are able to decrease project timelines by 40 percent by drastically shortening the time required for extensive operations testing. CIOs can also reduce IT risks via continuous functional testing of IT systems, deliver innovative systems faster via continuous software build and deployment automation, and decrease the cost of QA testing via automated digital labor.
Where Can Tasks Be Automated?
Virtually every department and/or silo within a company can benefit from the power of task automation. Since automation systems (software and hardware) are able to reduce the steps for task completion, streamline data parsing/analysis and task integration, and replace manual labor with digital labor, such systems allow marketing teams, IT departments, manufacturing groups, finance teams, etc. to utilize them for specific purposes, in a way that suits their particular needs:
- Email automation and Marketing automation: While Social media platforms are the new go-to method of utilizing inbound marketing methodologies to reach a broader audience, email marketing is still 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter marketing systems combined. One of the most powerful uses of task automation is with email automation, where automated, but targeted, email campaigns can be sent to a specific audience using a variety of software applications. According to a study, by 2019, the global marketing automation market will reach 5.5 billion dollars.
- Project Functional Testing automation: Automation systems can be leveraged to provide continuous, functional testing of new deployable technologies, of projects, and of software applications within their respective life cycles, all of which can greatly cut the costs of QA testing, and can greatly decrease the timeline of such life cycles.
In addition to the above, a multitude of time-consuming business tasks can be automated, including data collection/parsing and analysis tasks, manufacturing/production processes in factory assembly lines, payroll, accounting and finance processes, and even less-used operations such as automated reporting, automated website login/authentication, automated computer backups, automated software maintenance, and automated web data mining, etc.
Automation in the IT Department
While virtually every department within an organization can benefit from automation, IT silos can benefit from automation systems in a wide variety of ways, including:
- Data Collection, Processing and Analysis: Automation systems allow the extraction of valuable information faster, along with more effective bulk-data analysis (or Big Data analysis) to more efficiently produce Business Intelligence (BI). Additionally, automation systems can carry out the above procedures with less errors for better reporting and decision making.
- Software Testing Automation: As has been noted, automation QA testing of software projects/applications and software systems can greatly cut down on cost and time requirements within a project or software development lifecycle.
- Security vulnerability testing: Certain aspects of security (software) testing can be automated in order to ensure that complete data security is feasibly attained, which, for instance, can aid in establishing a secure software development life cycle (SSDLC).
Automation in Manufacturing and Production
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and automation hardware systems can be leveraged in factories, assembly lines and production firms in a variety of ways. For instance, certain repetitive (physical) tasks can be automated, which can reduce labor costs and possible risks for injury.
Additionally, automation systems can aid in supply-chain management and can be integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suites.
Automation in the HR Department
Automation has the potential to play a very significant role in HR processes and operations, including:
- Payroll: Automation systems can be used for numerous HR and finance processes, including updating financial documents, producing invoices, carrying out payroll operations (i.e. balancing, depositing, reporting, reconciling data, etc.), and more.
- Training: Along with computer systems, automation systems can be implemented to assist with training new personnel, such as with automated exams, dissemination of training materials, production/reporting of trainee scorecards, etc.
- Other tasks: Automation systems can also aid with other HR tasks, including: reporting, spreadsheet updates, calendar and schedule management, distribution of documents for collaboration, data entry, etc.
Main Benefits of Automating Tasks
Task automation essentially allows labor (typically menial/repetitive labor) to be transferred from a human to a digital system, allowing human personnel to reduce their to-do list and focus more on important tasks. This helps to reduce time on menial processes, while giving personnel the ability to be more creative, and to use their time to be more productive.
Additionally, the use of automation systems can greatly save on business expenses and costs, since digital systems do not require the same financial overhead – or training – as human personnel. When time and money are saved, companies can focus more on their products/services, which can help them to greatly increase their bottom and top lines via increased productivity.
So, Whose Job is it to Keep an Eye Out for Tasks Which Could Be Automated?
When it comes to delegating tasks and overseeing all processes associated with automation, there are several possible executives who can fill the role of managing and strategizing their implementation and utilization, including the CIO, CAO, and CPO.
Traditionally it is the Role of the CIO
The Chief Information Officer (CIO) has evolved into a broad role associated with strategically managing and overseeing all aspects of an enterprise’s Information Technology Infrastructure. Along with said role comes the responsibility of crafting the IT strategic plan, which details the blueprint or roadmap for how all aspects of the IT infrastructure can be aligned to the overarching goals and model of the organization. Automation software and hardware systems would typically be included within the IT strategic plan, and thus, corporate automation system management would fall under the role of the CIO. Along with the strategic planning associated with the utilization of automation systems, the CIO also maps out the implementation and management of such automation systems, which would ensure that all automation workflows benefit the enterprise from a strategic and tactical standpoint. However, as businesses evolve and scale, automation has often come under the responsibility of other chief officers, namely, the Chief Automation Officer and/or Chief Process Officer.
The Rise of the CAO
The Chief Automation Officer (CAO) is a C-level executive whose role is specifically associated with the strategic management, planning, implementation and overseeing of all automation (hardware and software system) processes and operations within an organization. As noted by PMG, one of the core issues with automation is the ability to skillfully and holistically make all automation systems compatible and aligned with all other components of an enterprise’s IT infrastructure, such that all automation systems work together effectively. Since CIOs operate in a very broad manner, and potentially have a very large number of responsibilities, while not being an expert in automation specifically, larger companies and enterprises who focus on automation often require a CAO to fill the role of strategically managing automation systems.
The Rise of the CPO
The Chief Process Officer (CPO) is a C-suite executive whose role is associated with high-level business process management and overseeing all business processes in an organization. Though being broader in nature when compared to the role of the CAO, CPOs typically focus on aligning all aspects of an enterprise’s infrastructure with the core business processes of the organization. With such a role, as noted by CIO.com, CPOs focus on BPM strategy and objectives and establish a process governance structure, with a focus on the enterprise’s process map. To that end, CPOs may strategically align automation processes with business objectives and non-automation processes in order to ensure that all business goals are met.
CIO vs CAO vs CPO: Who Should Fill the Role?
Traditionally, CIOs oversaw automation processes within an organization. Depending on the size of the company, or how much automation is needed, a CAO/CPO may not be necessary to fill the role of overseeing and strategizing automation operations and systems in an organization. Often times, task automation may remain the responsibility of the CIO, who is typically equipped with the knowledge and abilities to effectively and strategically manage all automation systems in an enterprise.