By virtue of their position between IT and effecting business strategy, CIOs can identify what processes their organizations need in order to modernize and automate. When it comes to updating core systems to drive operational efficiencies, they also have to ensure that a sound business case exists to automate them, says Laurie Shotton, VP and analyst at Gartner. That's not surprising since CIOs typically own IT automation, as well as help drive business automation. But it's not always a given the two aren't working at cross purposes.\n\n"For the last 15 to 20 years, organizations have been trying to modernize core systems in order to drive operational efficiencies," he says. "And quite often, the business case for replacing them doesn't stack up."\n\nAutomation, the business, and the CIO\n\nSince automation can help improve KPIs and create new channels to help improve end-user experience, it\u2019s one of the primary tools in a CIO\u2019s toolkit to drive the business forward, says Brian Woodring, CIO at Rocket Mortgage. \u201cThe biggest challenge is making sure that by automating the business, you're not just taking a legacy, highly bureaucratic manual process and putting RPA in front of it,\u201d he says. \u201cYou may get some short-term wins, but you're unlikely to deliver durable value. One of the biggest things I've learned is you can't do automation to the business; you have to do it with the business.\u201d\n\nAs an example, the technology organization of the pharmaceutical segment at Cardinal Health collaborates closely with business leaders so they can identify current pain points and determine the right processes to automate, focusing on how these tools will improve the customer or employee experiences, says CIO Greg Boggs.\n\n\u201cOur technology organization collaborates closely with business leaders so we can identify current pain points and determine the right processes to automate, focusing on how these tools will improve our customer or employee experiences,\u201d he says. \u201cIn general, it\u2019s been straight forward to quantify the business impact of automation initiatives, given they typically have clear before and after business metrics. We\u2019ve matured our practice around automation and built architecture that\u2019s enabled us to be nimble, innovative, and able to pivot quickly in a dynamic, global healthcare environment.\u201d\n\nThe challenge of the CIO's job at a financial institution, however, is to eliminate waste by redefining the entire business process while delighting the client and simultaneously maintaining compliance, says Woodring.\n\nAdditionally, businesses that combine automation with AI will be able to make faster decisions, optimize business processes, and drive higher rates of efficiencies, says Subramani Elumalai, VP of application management services delivery at Capgemini.\n\nOther CIOs concur that the business is the central consideration for automation efforts.\n\nAt Northwestern Mutual, for instance, the company's mission \u2014 to free Americans from financial anxiety \u2014 drives everything it does to inform its business priorities, says Jeff Sippel, CIO and EVP.\n\nFrom a practical level, the organization is consistently looking to apply automation solutions where they can have meaningful impact. The company measures the success of these efforts by business outcomes, not the success of the automation itself, he adds.\n\nAutomation as enabler\n\nAutomation and business goals also go hand in hand for Vaibhav Tandon, head of commercial management, Adani Electricity Mumbai Ltd.\n\nAutomation acts as an enabler to identify specific processes and achieve business requirements, he says. Customer centricity is also crucial to the power company's business goals, and automation initiatives ensure it enhances the system's productivity effectiveness. "It\u2019s become one of the key levers in the client experience, and it plays different roles throughout the lifecycle of that change," says Sippel.\n\nFor the CIO, this requires a broader and longer-term perspective while simultaneously keeping the lights on and innovating to create the best client experience.\n\n"We're essentially rebuilding the city while we're living in it, so the CIO is constantly weighing both the strategic and tactical considerations: what are the right tools, and how do we bring them together at the right time and place," he says.\n\nJamie Smith says his job as CIO at the University of Phoenix is to evangelize the opportunities for applying automation across all the university's activities. His perspective is that automation augments human tasks so the university can do more for its students.\n\nThe university currently employs a variety of automations including RPA to automate recurring human tasks for efficiency, ML-based automated nudges to facilitate student progression and attendance, and an automated virtual assistant (Phoebe) to broaden the support window for working adult students when they need assistance.\n\nPriorities for CIOs\n\nAutomating complex workflows will remain a CIO priority, says Petr Baudis, CTO and chief AI architect at London-based Rossum. The key will be getting such projects to scale beyond departmental silos. A catalyst to make this happen will be the ongoing improvements in AI-enabled data capture.\n\nFast and accurate data extraction will speed up transactions and automation capabilities, and be the foundational technology within any business intelligence or data analytics platform, enabling better collaboration and B2B communications, he says.\n\n"The types of automation technology we see being vital include RPA along with process and task mining,\u201d says Baudis. \u201cWe're seeing a convergence taking place between all these technologies as enterprises try and scale their automation projects."\n\nPlus, Adani Electricity this year is continuing with advancements in the areas of distribution management, customer experience, the metering ecosystem, and consumer data analytics, says Tandon.\n\n\u201cWe\u2019ve implemented SAS' AI\/ML-based energy forecasting solution to improve our forecasting performance,\u201d he says. \u201cThis has helped us achieve a forecast accuracy of around 97%, thereby allowing us to optimize power procurement costs while providing reliable electricity supply to our 2.5 million consumers. We\u2019ll also continue with advancements in distribution management, the metering ecosystem, and consumer data analytics.\u201d\n\nThe power company's flagship automation projects include implementing an advanced distribution management system to create a self-healing grid infrastructure with enhanced visibility and scalability to improve the customer experience. They\u2019re also implementing a cloud-based data lake and analytics solution that will provide what Tandon calls a single source of truth, and drive self-service analytics and data-backed decision-making to help them operate more efficiently.\n\n\u201cEstimated readings for our customers stood at 2.2% three years back, but now we've brought them down to 0.3%,\u201d he says. \u201cThe whole mechanism was automated so all readings were optically downloaded without any manual intervention. This initiative not only ensured our system accuracy and return of equity (RoE) incentive, but also improved transparency and reduced consumer complaints.\u201d\n\nAnd at the pharmaceutical segment at Cardinal Health, a main goal is to also boost its efforts in warehouse automation to better serve its customers, Boggs says.\n\n\u201cIn IT, we\u2019ll continue to prioritize infrastructure as code, continuous integration and deployment, and AI operations,\u201d he says.\n\nThe University of Phoenix has some new automation projects on tap as well. Currently, the institution is developing an enterprise platform that will enable the increased use of ML and automation across a wide range of student and staff journeys, Smith says.\n\n"This engine will be deeply integrated into our data lake to enable truly individualized student support at the right time, through the best channel," he adds.\n\nThe university also plans to continue improving student support by continuing to automate increasingly complex tasks in matriculation, transcript processing, and student financial aid.\n\n"Recent advances in the ability to consume unstructured documents and natural language processing are enabling a whole new crop of complex tasks to become candidates for automation," says Smith.\n\nHis team is creating platforms and systems by which they can effectively scale and govern automation safely and reliably. After all, he says, there\u2019s nothing less effective than automating a process that shouldn\u2019t exist. Automation combined with AI should significantly help businesses make faster decisions, optimize business processes, and drive higher rates of efficiencies, says Elumalai. "It has the potential to improve business KPIs through auto-detect, auto-heal solutions, and create new channels to improve end-user experience," he says.