Technology

Automatic Transmission: Enter the Chief Automation Officer

By Andie Burjek

Oct. 26, 2015

The idea of automating processes isn’t new. The printing press automated the publishing industry in the 15th century, the Industrial Revolution automated manufacturing in the 19th century, and in the 20th century the digital revolution has automated processes in most industries with computing technologies.   

However, this old shortcut to success does bring about a new issue in business. Some people are recommending an entirely new C-Suite position: the chief automation officer, or CAO, a position that looks at how automation can be implemented within a company’s technology strategy.

“If organizations do not adopt the chief automation officer role, I fear for them. An organization has got to [adopt a CAO] in order to win in a very, very competitive work environment,” said Chris Boorman, chief marketing officer at Automic Software Inc., a company that helps organizations automate processes.

Of course, the position isn’t mainstream just yet.

Very few companies, such as Form-A-Feed Inc., Omatic Software and Merrill Brink International, have one, according to a LinkedIn job title search. However, Boorman believes it’s only a matter of time before companies start hiring CAOs.

“The reason why the idea of the CAO is becoming more relevant and more interesting is, with all the things that happen across a company — whether it be marketing programs or manufacturing programs … or the employee onboarding process,” he said. “The way you connect these together is where the complexities come in, and that’s why there’s a lot of commonality in the way we should approach it.”

Although similar to the position of the chief technology officer, the CAO has a different set of duties.

A CTO is responsible for the overall technology strategy in a company and looks outside the company for new technologies that can improve business processes A CAO looks within a company and decides where automation could have the biggest effect on employee productivity.  

In a simple automation environment, a CTO can perform the duties of a CAO, but in a more complex one, the CTO may not be able to handle it, said Milind Govekar,a managing vice president at Gartner Inc.

The state of automation now is disorganized, he said. Many organizations now have multiple automation tools, controlled by individuals rather than one governing body. Automation tends to be individualistic rather than enterprisewide.

As automation becomes more practical and more necessary, companies have to formalize and organize the process. They need what Govekar calls an “automation competency center,” led by the CAO who can be smart about how and where to use automation.

“One of the biggest challenges is there’s no governance of automation,” he said. “There’s no visibility, control or central policy,” he said, explaining why companies should consider adding CAOs.

The cost of a new C-suite position is high, but the rewards are worth it in both large and small organizations, Boorman added.

As a small, growing company puts new ideas, new systems and new products in place, a CAO could ensure that new systems are automated, he said. In larger companies, the addition of an automation competency center led by the CAO would allow them to free up budgets and resources.

The companies that have adopted the position, however, are mostly larger, mature organizations, said Todd Delaugher, Automic’s CEO. Smaller companies may not have the resources. 

He also said that although the position of CAO is not yet common, he expects it will be in the future if organizations want to control the automation of their processes and compete with other companies.

Of course, nothing is automatic in the business world.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce editorial intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce.com.

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