How Should CIOs Implement Robotic Process Automation?

The robots are coming, will the CIO be ready?
The robots are coming, will the CIO be ready?
Image Credit: Jonathan Pearson

Guess what? A brand new technology is on the horizon and as the company’s CIO, you are going to be the person who is going to have to implement it. This new technology is called robotic process automation (RPA) and it allows average business users to configure software “robots” to automate what are called “swivel chair” repetitive tasks and maximize the importance of information technology. A company’s motivation for launching an RPA campaign is to put themselves on a much faster automation track while reaping the benefits of increased productivity and lower operational costs. What do CIOs need to know in order to introduce this new technology into their company?

Take Your Time When Automating

When a company starts a RPA project, it can be all too easy to start to think that everything can be automated. The person with the CIO job needs to realize that not every process is a good candidate for automation, and in order to wring the most value out of the technology, you have to look beyond the basics. Many times early demos play up the “magical” nature of RPA technology by recording and then mimicking back simple repetitive tasks, but that’s just that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What you are going to have to realize is that the reality is that RPA is like any other software product — it requires planning and technology support and without it, there’s not much you can do beyond the basics.


Governance Is Required But With Moderation

Every IT department should have a strong governance program and ROI model to make sure you’re not just deploying bots without heed to real savings and business value. CIOs who have a governance program and then make the extra effort to create a Center of Excellence (CoE) can ensure their bots are well designed, which is critical for avoiding potential processing errors.

Getting started is critical and so you will need to understand that it’s not always important to have a fixed, fully optimized process before you automate. The person in the CIO position has to understand that if they try to fix processes before automation, they may never get off the starting block. One way to deal with this issue is to create parallel development tracks that automate high-volume, low-capacity tasks in addition to identifying more complex and strategic initiatives.

Take The Time To Align Your Business With Your IT

CIOs may not have to dedicate as much staff to an RPA project because an upside to RPA is the visual programming capabilities that allow average business users to automate tasks without coding. However, you still need IT involvement to scale the program effectively as well as business analysts who are skilled in identifying what processes are ripe for automation. You will need to understand that business users can help set expectations and educate the stakeholders so they understand what the technology can accomplish and the right objectives for the organization. It can be all too easy to start to think that you can apply technology like AI and it’s a magic box — you just tidy up your data and these things take care of themselves. CIOs have an education component and their expectation setting for management is key.

RPA Requires Change Management

CIOs need to look at their RPA project as being a component of automation that is just a part of a larger digital transformation, and business leaders have a responsibility to proactively prepare their workforce for the jobs of the future through reskilling initiatives. RPA can be applied to such highly repetitive tasks as fraud, finance, and collections with the goal of having humans and bots drive value together. The reason for the RPA program is to eliminate repetitive, manual work and increase productivity and efficiency. The result of this is that human workers gain a chance to focus on more complex assignments.

CIOs are responsible for facilitating this transition. This means that we need to roll out a number of training initiatives to teach workers new skills and encourage them to embrace their new bot development responsibilities. Your employees will be gaining new technology skills and helping program a new generation of bots that will simplify previously labor-intensive tasks across the company.

Creating and implementing proper change management and governance programs is also critical for realizing the best return on the RPA investment and for ensuring the program can scale effectively. CIOs need to realize that user-developed bots work fine until something in the underlying application changes; this can happen if there is not proper IT oversight. The result of this is that those automations are now at risk of breaking, erasing any short-term benefits.

What All Of This Means For You

Change is coming and it sure looks like the robots are leading the way. CIOs need to understand that robotic process automation (RPA) projects are in their future and they need to start preparing for them today. These projects can use the skills that the front line workers have; however, IT support is needed for a successful implementation and ongoing maintenance. CIOs need to have a plan to make sure that their RPA project is going to be a success.

CIOs need to be careful to not rush into an RPA project. Not every task can be automated and so CIOs will have to select the right ones carefully. RPA projects require governance from the IT department. However, you do need to be careful to not hold the project back. Make sure that you have aligned your RPA project with what the needs of the business are. CIOs need to understand that an RPA project will transform the business and they need to work to prepare everyone for these changes.

Automating your company’s boring or repetitive tasks just makes good sense. RPA projects that are implemented with the help of the workers who will benefit the most are well positioned to be a success. However, it is the responsibility of the CIO to make sure that the implementation goes well and the workers are going to be ready for what comes after the implementation is done.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What is the best way to allow the IT department staff to drive an RPA project?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As CIOs, some jobs are tougher than others. One of the most demanding is when you find yourself taking on a troubled IT department. This isn’t a job for the faint of heart. Your job will be to repair damage and put things back in order so that the company can realize the importance of information technology. This will require a great deal of time and effort on your part. The good news is that if you succeed, you’ll be lauded as a hero. The bad news is that if you fail, your washout could haunt your CIO career for years to come.