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Chief information officers (CIOs) and their teams today are responsible for building the digital workforces that are needed to power digital transformation.

More valuable than ever

There’s no doubt that the CIO’s role has changed considerably recently. Just a decade ago, pundits were predicting that CIOs would gradually lose their influence in the executive suite and that IT would become little more than a service bureau to respond to the requests of the business units. It was predicted that the distributed functions, or lines of businesses, would hold the budget and the power over how technology would be deployed within their units.

Instead, the opposite has occurred. CIOs have become business leaders in their own right, with responsibility for transforming customer experiences, creating new business models, and increasing employee innovation.

At the epicenter of transformation

Today’s CIOs find themselves at the epicenter of strategic business decisions. In the digital-first era, 9 out of 10 CIOs are expected to play the lead role in digitally transforming their businesses, according to an Adobe report.

Other senior business leaders agree with this reshuffling of corporate power. When asked which other C-suite officers will be most critical over the next few years, CEOs named their tech chiefs (CIOs and CTOs) twice as often as CMOs and CHROs and even more than all other senior positions.

And what do CIOs themselves think is important? According to multiple studies, they are intent on digitizing everything by applying automation wherever it makes sense. When Gartner surveyed CIOs in 2021, they said that their top priority was to accelerate digital initiatives, followed closely by automating business processes.

A new focus on the workforce

In particular, CIOs recognize that to achieve digital transformation, they first need to transform their workforces. The shortage of experienced tech workers, in particular, is driving change. Frustrated by the labor market, with 75% of SMBs and 67% of enterprises upskilling existing staff to meet demand, many companies are even focused on “reskilling.” They’re looking at retraining valuable workers. More than half of the companies surveyed (63% of SMBs and 55% of enterprises) are embarked on an ambitious reskilling program.

But where to start? Following is the three-pronged strategy to help CIOs move forward.

Enable true digital transformation  

Empowerment is the word of the digital era. Today’s leading CIOs are taking advantage of low-code/no-code automation tools that enable citizen developers to build their own workflows to make their jobs easier and more efficient. By empowering citizen developers, central IT can scale and "democratize automation" and enable true digital transformation.

The advantages to nurturing an army of citizen developers with low-code/no-code automation tools are numerous. Here are just a few: 

  • Relieves the burden on IT. Most IT departments have long queues of requests from users. If such users can automate their workflows with low-code/no-code automation tools, IT is freed for more strategic work.
  • Speeds time-to-value of business priorities. The advantages go the other way, too. Users can accelerate getting their initiatives completed with a DYI workflow model by automating manual processes that are slowing them down.
  • Boosts employee satisfaction, increases productivity and reduces turnover. A recent Salesforce survey identified a number of ways automation has improved employee experiences, personally and professionally. Nine in 10 workers (89%) are more satisfied with their jobs, and 84% are more satisfied with their companies directly because of automation. Additionally, 90% of IT users claim automation has made them much more satisfied with collaboration across departments. 

Build a center of excellence (CoE) 

The second step, once the seeds of citizen developers and automation democratization have been spread, is to gather all the automation expertise and enthusiasm into a central place: the automation center of excellence (CoE). The CoE will include professional developers with automation experience as well as business users and analysts, business process experts, and change-management professionals. As a general rule, a CoE is a dedicated team of individuals who set standards, provide consulting and development assistance, and monitor how automation initiatives are progressing throughout the enterprise.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) allows enterprises to take automation initiatives to the enterprise level and maximize returns on investments in technology, people, and processes. And strong governance enables a controlled execution and is helpful when more processes are automated.

Federate and scale initiatives to achieve end-to-end automation

Does building a centralized CoE eliminate the citizen developers’ efforts? Quite the contrary. Although the CoE identifies and owns the processes for RPA implementation in the hopes of harnessing economies of scope and scale, users still are empowered to continue with their automation work. But now, a centralized monitoring system in the form of a CoE ensures more compliance while encouraging effective handling of the challenges that arise in the individual business units’ own automation efforts.  

In effect, when an organization reaches this stage, it has created a federated model for managing its automation initiatives. This is necessary for two seemingly opposing reasons: Businesses need a strong centralized governance model to get economies of scale and to ensure compliance as they grow their automation efforts in size and complexity.

But they also need to stay in close touch with front-line workers in their organizations to leverage their knowledge of their jobs and processes and speed automation solutions to market ASAP. Together, the centralized CoE and the decentralized business units make an unbeatable team for scaling automation end-to-end across the enterprise.

Indeed, that’s the ultimate goal: To automate everything that can be automated, but in a seamless, holistic way that can respond swiftly and with agility to uncertain market conditions. By the time an organization has reached this third stage in automation maturity, it has reached four important accomplishments:

  • Federated to every department
  • Established organization-wide governance
  • Formalized the roles and productively harnessed the power of citizen developers
  • Scaled across organizational departments and siloes to get "wall-to-wall" automation

What is wall-to-wall automation? It’s automation that transcends boundaries, where processes from one department are melded seamlessly with those of others to form an inclusive network of workflows.

Scalability plus agility is key

New research from Deloitte, “Automation with Intelligence: Pursuing Organization-wide Reimagination,” found that the number of organizations implementing automation at scale has tripled in just two years. But only a third of businesses have an enterprise-wide intelligent automation strategy in place.

CIOs at the helm

By steering their company through these three essential steps, CIOs can put automation to work and play an essential, leadership role in helping the company prosper in the new digital economy. See what automation can do for your business and CIO role.    



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