What is a chief automation officer?

A chief automation officer handles the process automation of an organisation, positioning the right people and technologies across departments

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As more and more organisations explore the benefits of automation, the role of a strategic leader becomes increasingly paramount in delivering these efficiencies at scale.

Automation in this context refers to taking humans out of the equation for simple, often repetitive business processes. On the hardware side this could involve the use of robotics and AI in factories and warehouses. On the software side, RPA (robotic process automation) and automated testing in devops and security help free up humans to perform less rudimentary tasks.

As digital transformation has risen up the business agenda, many organisations have created chief digital or data officer roles to help IT decision makers who are tasked with the duty of strategic planning.

However, a leader who is au fait with the ins and outs of automated tooling, hardware, and software can bring valuable strategic perspectives to organisations as they plan their operational roadmaps to take advantage of these emerging fields. Enter the chief automation officer (CAO).

What is the role of a chief automation officer?

The role of a chief automation officer is to oversee enterprise process automation as a whole. It is the responsibility of a CAO to focus on underpinning all automation attempts with the right technology.

A CAO is expected to help the organisation achieve transformation rapidly but sustainably. The role includes optimising workflows, while applying them to appropriate areas of the business. The purpose of the CAO position is to ensure that automation is distributed and orchestrated effectively across the organisation. 

They will be expected to modernise or deliver on an existing automation strategy, if there is one in place, or create a plan that involves the requirements of both IT and the business, spanning technology development to security policy.

Read next: What is a CIO? | Chief Information Officer job description and salary

Does your organisation need a CAO?

It's cleary early days for the role in the real world however. Although we've noticed talk of the CAO picking up since around 2015, it is still not very common in organisations today. However, for organisations with essential efficency needs and that have space for an additional position in the C-Suite, the prominence of the role could soon pick up.

Some may confuse the role with that of a chief digital officer, due to the joint commitment to digital transformation. However, they are quite different as the CDO typically acts as the ‘driver’ for digital transformation in getting the business on the path to digitise culture and processes, whilst the CAO is tasked with putting the right technologies in place to align with the business strategy.

Additionally, a CAO is able to make decisions from an enterprise view not just from the perspective of the IT department. This can help to build an automation roadmap that matches overall business strategy.

If your organisation is struggling to get to grips with what automation it needs to adopt and how processes will align, then investigating the advantages of hiring a CAO might be a prudent decision.

Although, if you are close to what a ‘digital-first’ business looks like, then the support of a CIO and CDO could be enough for now. In short, soberly take stock of your existing capabilities and measure where the business hopes to be in the near- to medium-term.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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