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How Intelligent Automation Can Affect the C-Suite

In the blog, we’ve talked about employing intelligent automation (IA) to automate the front office, the back office, the factory, the warehouse, and so on. But we haven’t talked that much about the top office—the C-suite. What’s the relationship of that senior tier of management to intelligent automation that combines Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI)?

As it turns out, the relationship should be a close one. To successfully leverage the advanced technologies being applied through intelligent automation requires that all members of the C-suite take active roles in identifying opportunities and risks. In particular, they need to understand the impact intelligent automation will have on the company’s overall culture, processes, and, especially, people.

Which executives in the C-suite are affected by IA, and what are they responsible for?

  • Chief executive officers (CEOs) are ultimately the ones responsible for their businesses’ digital transformation. When it comes to intelligent automation, the buck stops there in finding the equilibrium between human and virtual workers that fits the company values and culture.  

  • Chief operating officers (COOs) must understand how intelligent automation will play out on the ground, particularly in how it will affect daily operations that keep businesses’ doors open.

  • Chief financial officers (CFOs) are in charge of the ROI of the investment in intelligent automation and the financial risks of the investment.

  • Chief human resources officers (CHROs) oversee the education of and communication to employees about how intelligent automation can help them work better.

  • Chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) play a key role in intelligent automation adoption, as much of the support, expertise, and security mechanisms will come from their domains.

 
Changing roles

There are several ways that intelligent automation is affecting members of the C-suite. Here are some of the most prominent.

  • Changing priorities. Today’s senior executives aren’t just in charge of human employees. They have to manage a hybrid workforce of people teamed up with intelligent software bots. They’ll have different priorities when it comes to labor as they search for and identify ways to augment their workforces with artificial intelligence.

    Bots can effectively handle repetitive manual work, freeing up employees for higher-value work. What type of work? Executives will need to strategize about how this shift in duties will impact the direction of the company across all their functions.

  • Increasing scopes of responsibility. Intelligent automation isn’t just an IT group’s responsibility. IA affects all departments, teams, and individuals, and it must be treated as a ubiquitous aspect of the business. This puts increased responsibility on members of the C-Suite. They must become familiar with the technologies and capabilities, not to the extent of having to program or code systems, but they should be acquainted, at a high level, with how intelligent automation works and what it can do for the business. Without this kind of knowledge, they won’t be able to navigate and delegate roles and responsibilities to the new human-bot workforce.

  • Managing new risks effectively. Intelligent automation offers businesses tremendous opportunities to streamline processes and make them more efficient. IA can free employees from repetitive, mundane tasks and enable them to use their human talents of creativity, intuition, and judgment—to seize new market opportunities and gain a competitive edge.

Yet, these opportunities could carry with them some potential obstacles to overcome. Will the technology work as expected? Will there be unanticipated consequences of automating a certain process or workflow? Will company executives encounter resistance from their workforce in adopting the new technology?

As in considering any major change to their organizations, senior leaders will need to make sure that moving to IA aligns with their values, cultures, and long-term goals. They’ll need to understand the unique risks and how to mitigate them. To do this, they should review intelligent automation installations at other organizations. And they should educate themselves on the real-world implications of employing IA for their foundational operations.

Achieving high ROI on enterprise investments

The C-suite is concerned with strategic matters. Typically, those executives would not want to get down in the weeds of a particular process or technology. They just need the bottom line: how much does it cost? will it work? and what’s the ROI? Intelligent automation is different. Not understanding it at a fairly robust level would be the equivalent of running a business at the turn of the 19th century and not understanding all the ways that the new invention known as the telephone would affect the way the business operates.

This is why all C-suite executives must pay attention to intelligent automation and understand the transformations that will take place for their companies’ cultures, values, and people.

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