For modern enterprises, especially those embracing digital transformation, business strategy and IT are inextricably linked. This means today’s CIO needs to move beyond the role of technology champion and trusted operator to become a change instigator and a strategic partner who helps shape the business.
According to Gartner, organizations with diverse IT-business collaborations will deliver business outcomes 25% faster than their competitors.
Automating processes is often key to accelerating these business outcomes. Process automation – i.e., digitizing processes with dedicated business applications that enable task and workflow automation – thus becomes the low-hanging fruit for digital transformation, allowing CIOs to better align IT with the organizations’ business strategy.
For organizations, business process automation is critical to ensuring business continuity, lowering costs, increasing margins, and reducing errors and risks. It can also improve staff morale and creativity due to a reduction in chaotic and inefficient processes. But what about the impact on the CIO and the larger IT team?
While the benefits of process automation for organizations are abundant, pursuing automation projects can deliver direct benefits for the CIO too, including:
#1 Gaining business user allies through tactical task automation
Today’s business users often need help automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks; the sort of things often handled using emails, spreadsheets, or physical paper clutter.
Though some business process automation projects are indeed pushed from the top down as part of the organization’s global strategy, a large number of them are driven bottom-up by the needs of these business users.
The “citizen development” movement – encouraging non-IT-trained employees to use low-code / no-code platforms to create business applications – seemed attractive but has proved difficult to make work and has often fallen short of expectations.
Very few citizens have the talent – let alone the desire – to build applications, and the ones who do often find it conflicting with their primary duties. When it does work, it’s usually short-cycle, short-lifespan efforts for personal tasks. Projects beyond that small, short scope require greater skills and/or access to curated resources.
In other words – it’s almost impossible to bypass IT. But it is possible to improve and augment them. And it is possible to optimize their efforts.
While IT continues to work on shared-value projects, CIOs can have them coordinate and orchestrate those small, personal, short-term tactical efforts users can do for themselves.
Procuring and promoting the use of the right tools, so IT is seen as the facilitator of citizen activity, not its nemesis, produces quick wins, yields goodwill, and whets appetites for larger-scale efforts.
That’s important because those large-scale efforts will only succeed through the collaboration of users and IT.
#2 Showing tangible evidence of productivity
Regardless of the IT project, business leaders always want to know: how can we determine, deliver on, and measure the key business outcomes of this project?
While it can be difficult to quantify the successes of simple task automation and data management efforts, process-oriented solutions typically have outcomes that are highly measurable, and thus reportable (the volume or pace of loan applications processed, for instance). Simply put, business process automation empowers CIOs to demonstrate ROI.
When the road to success on long-term, strategic IT projects (whether related to IT infrastructure, the ERP exchange, or something else) gets bumpy, being able to present process automation quick wins that positively impact the overall business becomes an ace up the CIO’s sleeve.
#3 Turning “can’t” into “can”
Building and maintaining business applications doesn’t have to consume a large number of up-front resources or require orchestrating a cacophony of otherwise-disconnected moving parts before a single step can be taken.
When CIOs treat business applications as process automation projects, they can begin with the work to be done, not the assets to be managed.
When approached with an agile mindset based on continuous feedback, business process automation enables the CIO to quickly deliver applications that are consistent, maintainable, and can evolve over time to include ambitious assets.
But along the way, such efforts yield regularly expanding positive results. That persistent positive sentiment is invaluable to gaining trust among business stakeholders.
#4 Delivering more value to the C-Suite
The modern CIO is ultimately responsible for not only creating a healthy IT infrastructure, but also efficient information dissemination that empowers the C-suite to make better decisions faster and execute them effectively.
Often processes are assumed, inferred, and ad-hoc. While a process might exist, it might have inconsistent outcomes and be poorly understood – which means efforts to improve it might be doomed before they begin.
Often, a benefit of automating a process is to formally document it for the first time – which then starts the journey toward better efforts and outcomes.
With workflow automation, processes become visible, transparent, well-governed, standardized, and auditable, meeting that requirement by providing management with strategic insights, indispensable to corporate growth.
This solidifies the CIO’s role as not just a valued member of the strategic leadership team, but a change instigator, turning digital transformation strategy into reality to create a modern workplace that improves how people work and how the company operates.
By stepping outside the confined IT role, the CIO can help drive true innovation and transform the company into a data-driven enterprise.
I never need to hear about “saving time and money” or buzzwords like “streamlined efficiency” again. It’s not that those terms, and those goals, don’t matter – they do – but at this point, they’re a baseline expectation.
What matters is where you’re saving time and money through streamlined efficiency, how you’re choosing to do it to, and what long-term cumulative cultural changes will happen within your organization as a result.
Only CIOs who balance business and technical skills are in a position to get this right.