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Is It Time to Hire a Chief Automation Officer?

The C-suite must evolve to better capture the opportunities that AI offers. Here's how a chief automation officer can ensure AI and automation initiatives receive the attention they deserve.

4 Min Read
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The evolution of technology and the emergence of generative AI tools like OpenAI's ChatGPT have put newfound importance on digital transformation. IDC predicts that more than half of all information and communications technology investments will be spent on digital transformation efforts by next year as organizations look to seize the competitive advantage technology provides and not be left behind.

As technical innovation continues to evolve, it's igniting a need for more strategic leadership to oversee emerging technology trends and their impacts on organizations. Some companies have created fresh C-suite positions, including a chief data officer and/or a chief experience officer in addition to their chief information officer and chief technology officer. This begs the question: Could a chief automation officer (CAO) be next?

Let's look at what the CAO role might look like and how the job could enhance the entire organization by helping it reap the benefits that integrating AI and automation offers, ranging from newfound efficiencies to cost cutting to ongoing compliance and a better employee experience.

A Closer Look at the Role of CAO

A Mercer survey shows that 57% of businesses plan to increase their use of AI and automation, and it's likely that number will climb as the pace of AI advancement and adoption continues to accelerate. As AI's abilities and reach expand, and no- and low-code tools and platforms become available throughout organizations, it could prompt C-suite executives to question who bears responsibility for prioritizing investments, implementing integration strategies, and governing how the technology will affect operations and profitability.

The C-suite is generally aligned on the prioritization of digital transformation, including business-transformative automation initiatives — 85% of C-suite executives polled by Deloitte last summer point to digital innovation as their No. 1 priority — but their plates are already overflowing. More than 60% of the executives surveyed cited seven or more core business priorities, covering growth, purpose, people, process, and technology. Most expect their focus to continue expanding in the coming years as they navigate an increasingly complex business environment and technology continues to evolve and advance.

However, an executive-level automation leader could lighten the load and ensure that automation initiatives receive the time and attention they deserve. A CAO could oversee AI investments, helping to weave them into the organization while managing the complexities surrounding their use, including security as well as regulatory and compliance obligations. The leader would work closely with other members of the C-suite, ensuring that automation technology and line-of-business objectives align and that teams have the tools, processes, standards, and workflows they need to be successful. The role could carry significance both within and beyond the C-suite, governing how game-changing technology affects operations and overall profitability while helping create a clear competitive advantage for the organization.

AI's Power to Create More Meaningful Jobs and a More Profitable Organization

By leveraging AI-driven tools and rolling them out across the organization, the CAO could bridge gaps between departments and enable them to access and share data that was once siloed. With newfound workflow efficiencies and better access to data, teams are better able to communicate and collaborate, which could ultimately empower individuals to guide decision-making across their organization.

The CAO should also ensure that automation is actively freeing employees from mundane, repetitive tasks like data entry, elevating their roles, and empowering them to work on more strategic tasks and projects. Doing so is good for business, as these efforts can save organizations time and money, reduce costly errors that can result from manual routines, and unveil opportunities for productivity improvements. Harnessing technology to modernize work also enhances employee retention, leaving room for the CAO to collaborate with HR departments and other talent leaders to help ensure that the business is attracting qualified talent and reducing the need for additional hiring, thanks to automation.

Modernizing the C-Suite

A leadership role that improves job satisfaction, creates efficiencies, and unleashes the power of data has a transformative power on organizations. Having an individual with this type of oversight could help companies navigate a challenging business environment that's fraught with uncertainty and better prepare for the future. This comes as IDC predicts that organizations that have built "a digital dream team" will enjoy faster rates of innovation, higher market share gains, and greater operational efficiencies than those who have yet to evolve.

IT leaders have been talking about the transformative powers of AI for ages. Now that nearly every business and every department within it is joining the conversation, it's time for the C-suite to evolve to better capture the opportunities that AI offers.

Creating a new leadership role dedicated to integrating and optimizing AI investments can empower organizations to sync their technology and business strategies and enable faster digital transformation and prepare it for the future. By strengthening their digital capabilities and ensuring that they are properly managed, businesses secure a competitive advantage and relief from macroeconomic pressures while paving the way to a more prosperous future.

Manu Sood is SVP of Technology at AvidXchange.

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