Leading change in the age of automation

By Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff, Redwood Software
Published: 18 June 2018

Henry Ford’s invention of the assembly line transformed manufacturing in the early 1900s. What made this invention so impactful is that it enabled mass production of automobiles, making cars more available, affordable and a mainstay in the modern world. Fast forward 100 years, and a similar story is unfolding in the enterprise world.

Automation and software robotics has advanced to the point where it will soon be hard to imagine a time where the technology wasn’t an integral part of any business. However, it important to consider how we make it to that stage. Early adopters hit road bumps, but with new advancements in software robotics and an understanding of the implications of this technology, CIOs are in a prime position to capitalise on this trend.

So what are the key ways that CIOs can ensure a successful automation implementation that benefits both staff and broader business goals?

1. Change must come from the top
It is normal for us as human beings to stay in our comfort zones and be resistant to change. This becomes even more true when it comes to technology such as automation and robotics, particularly due to the constant fear being created over job loss.

If automation is to be implemented successfully then change has to be managed from the topand filtered down to the rest of the business. The C-Suite has to demonstrate leadership and become a champion of the technology. As automation is going to impact all staff, CEOs should aim to work as closely as possible with CIOs to carry out the transformation.

Silos are a huge barrier to the success of a new process or technology and so it is crucial that everyone in the organisation embraces its implementation. CIOs will be responsible for training people across the business and equipping them with the skills they will need to make automation work. Whether the technology will be used to automate financial reports, HR paperwork or consolidate sales leads, it is important for all executives to have a firm understanding of how the tech works and how it will impact their staff, as well as be able to explain it to them.

2. Don’t run before you can walk
Recently, it is fair to say that here has been a large amount of hype around artificial intelligence. However, while there is no doubt that machine learning technologies are growing in sophistication and in terms of what they can offer, there is a lot more to consider.

Despite the excitement around AI, it remains difficult to find tangible use-cases of AI or machine learning technologies being implemented, to improve the processes and operations of a business. Before jumping on the AI bandwagon, CIOs should first implement technologies such as robotics that already have proven benefits.

As part of the digital transformation journey, every department should have a strategy in place, but with automation it is best to begin with the parts of the business that are most inefficient. The back office can therefore be a good starting point, due to the number and volume of repetitive and manual tasks. By automating these, employees have more time to focus on the activities that have strategic value.

For example in the HR department, it is common for the team to spend hours carrying out each step on the on-boarding process for a new employee. With automation, all required software permissions, accounts, login details and other pertinent information can be automatically provided and managed. This gives the team time back to concentrate on considered activities such as creating new training programmes for employees.

It is understandable that CIOs want to buy the latest new and shiny AI tool on the market. However, it is important to focus on the present and concentrate on the parts of the business that require attention now. By employing technologies with proven benefits, business leaders can simply and efficiently streamline processes.

3. Over-communicate everything
When undertaking any change in an organisation, clear and frequent communication is the key to easing the mind of employees. Sharing updates infrequently or only offering specific details on the implementation runs the risk of scaring employees into thinking that they are being replaced. To prevent this, honesty is the best policy.

The implementation of new products or technologies requires a detailed roadmap of the aims hoped to be achieved and the timeline in which this should happen. This is particularly important for CIOs as this roadmap will help them measure return on investment (ROI) and time to production. This transparency will also ensure buy-in from employees as they will know exactly what to expect from the new technology, when the changes will take place and most importantly, how it will affect them.

The speed at which technology is advancing is making it even harder for the C-Suite to stay afloat in the cut-throat world of business. As digital transformation becomes a necessary undertaking, the C-Suite have to ensure they achieve results. By rolling out automation from the top down, learning to walk before running and over-communicating, organisations can drive forward the wider business goals and stay ahead of the competition.