In 1986, when BusinessWeek introduced “Management’s Newest Star,” inviting us to “Meet the Chief Information Officer,” the idea of adding anyone else to the C-Suite was not only revolutionary, it was frightening. Business computing was still a burgeoning field. Typewriters and paper files, the status quo. A CIO wasn’t just a new officer: a CIO was a new way of doing things. Everything.
And yet, less than 30 years later, it feels as if the CIO role has always been there: making decisions on key hardware and software purchases, working with his business-side counterparts to determine how to align software and strategy, monitoring new trends and technologies to determine which are worth implementing and which should be ignored. It’s hard to imagine any mid- to large-sized businesses without a CIO on board.
But here’s a secret: CIOs, at least as we know them, aren’t cutting it anymore. Their role has become so necessary, so counted-upon, that they spend most of their time on tactical execution, thinking, if not one day at a time, then certainly one purchase, or implementation, or project, at a time.
And so the communication between IT and business, and between both departments and the CEO, can suffer. Let the CIO worry about technology. Let the COO worry about business. And bring on the Chief Automation Officer (CAO) to bridge the gap between business and IT, ensuring that both departments communicate efficiently and effectively. While some individual business processes and some IT processes are already automated, the CAO can look at them as parts of a whole automation strategy.
We spoke with Tijl Vuyk, the Founder and CEO of Redwood Software, who has seen this shift first hand through his career with Redwood and the customers they work with. Here is our Q&A with Mr. Vuyk:
1. It doesn't seem that long ago that the CIO title was new, and a way for tech to get a seat at the executive table. Now it's hard to imagine any mid- to large-sized business without a CIO on board. But you don't think the CIO role cuts it anymore. Why is that?
For decades, the C-level has dealt with the challenges of aligning business and IT to meet corporate goals. As market environments and expectations have changed, corporate leadership has always adapted and expanded. For most companies today, the heavy responsibility of building efficient, accurate and managed IT processes that support the business falls on the shoulders of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and his or her department-among many other tasks. As information technology (IT) and the processes it supports have become more pervasive and complex, the role of the CIO has also become increasingly complex.
With the rise of the "connected enterprise," mass-scale digital analytics (Big Data) and a wide range of automation opportunities that combine business and IT goals, company leadership must once again rethink how they manage and use technology for competitive advantage. It's truly a challenge for a CIO to touch all of the different types of technology needed within a business, as today the word "technology" encompasses many, many business and operational activities. One such activity is automation.
Automation is a special area that unites operational policies, repeated activities, resources and people in such a pervasive way that companies need to approach it with a coordinated view. It needs accountability all the way up to the C-level. Best practices show that 75% of all automation is repeatable across processes; 25% is customized for specific requirements. Companies can gain tremendous efficiency, consistency and quality all at once with carefully implemented, enterprise-wide automation.
When organizations look at automation in a holistic and focused way from the highest level, they can regain control and value from their existing IT enterprise while they move ahead of the competition. They can stop duplicating tasks and do more in less time. To do all of this effectively, they will need a Chief Automation Officer (CAO).
2. What roles are you seeing for tech executives going forward and how will they differ from that of the CIO?
The CAO will be responsible for organizing and coordinating all of the enterprise processes under a single value chain and one set of governance rules. Much like an enterprise architect, they will be responsible for the architecture and implementation of an enterprise-wide approach to automation.
They will also need to understand (like the CIO, CFO or CEO) business process fundamentals together with the technological requirements that keep the business moving ahead every day. They've got to be extremely practical. They will have decision-making abilities for the business and IT. Their job will be to make sure that the company uses automation wisely, correctly and pervasively.
Of course, the CIO still has plenty to do. He or she can focus on technology for transformation of the company in different ways. Many analysts and industry-watchers have noted that CIOs need to refine their focus in our changing digital world. For example:
Mark McDonald, group vice president and Gartner Fellow, said in a statement: "The world outside IT changed creating a quiet crisis for IT. Demands have increased in a world grown dynamic and digital. The harder CIOs work tended to current concerns, the less relevant IT became. CIOs know that the future rests in not repeating the past but in extending IT by hunting and harvesting in a digital world."
In a 2010 survey by CIO magazine, 43 percent of the CIOs surveyed reported to the CEO, and 60 percent of the respondents listed "long-term strategic thinking and planning" as one of their critical leadership competencies. That can be tough for a CIO who is spending most of his or her time simply managing the overall IT enterprise.
CIOs have played a balancing act for years now, between business processes and IT management. Improvements in both areas can mean success for any business, but companies must create roles that make this success achievable. Having a CIO and a CAO performing separate but complementary jobs would most certainly help.
3. How should an enterprise go about implementing the new role of CAO?
Companies can find candidates for the new CAO position within their own ranks-in the IT department, existing enterprise architects, or within other departments, like finance. They could also find them outside of the organization, but the best candidates should understand as many of the processes at the core of the business as possible. They would see business processes and the IT that supports them as a single ecosystem.
The CAO would look at all company resources-people, infrastructure and processes-as a machine that should function at top efficiency and accuracy to achieve business goals. They will create automated supply chains for information and other processes at the very core of the business. Their role will be critical to the next phase of IT development - the re-engineering of corporate IT to function logically and completely. This will require both a focused vision for automation and a spirit of collaboration with every stakeholder in the company. They would work with the entire C-level as a team.
By assessing all processes within the organization and analyzing them to see which ones can be united, simplified and/or eliminated through automation, the CAO can build business processes that work like clockwork. They can connect dependent processes and enable technology to provide consistency, quality and control at every level of the business. This will take a special kind of person who, like the CIO, can see the potential for improvement, how to get there, and what that will mean for the business. Unlike the CIO, the CAO's focus will be sharply on how automation can accomplish these goals.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.