Is It Time for the Chief Automation Officer?

What is the state of the Chief Automation Officer in the C-suite and when can we expect the true rise of the CAO?

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Chief Automation Officer (CAO)

The role of a Chief Automation Officer (CAO) for businesses was first espoused a few years ago as reporters, analysts, and automation vendors started to see the growing burden on the CIO and the need for more IT executive leadership positions. Here at the IT Automation Blog, we’ve considered the need for a CAO in previous blog posts and in conversations with automation users. Today, I want to revisit the idea of the CAO and see just how predictions about the rise of the CAO are shaping up with the reality of businesses’ organizational structure today. 

Digital Innovation Drives Heavier Reliance on IT

Digital innovation and digital transformation increase reliance on IT

According to Gartner research, digital revenue is expected to double in the next five years, reaching its tipping point in 2019. As businesses increasingly adopt digital practices, CEOs are relying more heavily on CIOs and CTOs, but not in the same way they have in the past.

Traditionally, CEOs have depended on CIOs to manage all of the businesses’ IT needs- ensuring the proper infrastructure is in place, overseeing that hardware/software solutions meet business objectives, and providing general technical guidance. However, as businesses start embracing digital practices, CEOs are relying heavily on CIOs and IT to drive this digital innovation AND keep performing their traditional responsibilities.  

The problem with this approach is that there’s just not enough time and resources for the CIO to lead the path to digital innovation and manage traditional IT needs. The CIO can’t plan the businesses’ digital innovation if he’s weighed down with operational day to day challenges that constantly come up.

In fact, one complaint we here often from CIOs at industry conferences is that they feel they spend too much time on tactical execution and are stuck in a cycle of planning one project a time, rather than acting as a strategic partner to the CEO.

So Where Exactly Does the CAO Come In?

The Chief Automation Officer oversees enterprise automation as a whole, building the pathways that support business processes, IT infrastructure, integrations, and more. This lets the CIO focus on developing new processes and implementing new strategies while the CAO underpins this innovation with the necessary automation to make it as smooth, quick, and reliable as possible.

As a result, instead of developing a process and automating it later, automation comes first in the development and design of a project. Personnel time is better spent, repetitive work is automated, and departments have a much more orchestrated approach to automation.

IT automation enables IT to optimize virtual and cloud resources

But as a quick search on LinkedIn revealed, widespread adoption of Chief Automation Officer positions isn’t a reality yet.

As the roles and responsibilities of CIOs have grown tremendously over the past decade, we’ve seen more C-level titles crop up, from Chief Data Officer and Chief Security Officer to Chief Cloud Officer, but the role of Chief Automation Officer hasn’t experienced the same level of acceptance.

Predicting the Rise of the CIO

One reason for this is that organizations often take an elemental approach to automation- meaning they automate project by project or application by application, without any holistic view of the entire organization.

Oftentimes we see individuals or teams devoted to IT Process automation or runbook automation or DevOps automation, without any organization-wide strategy with insight into the other team’s implementation, challenges, or successes. This leaves a lot of opportunity on the table as there may be overlap between different automation solutions and strategies within the organization, but there’s no central unifying person to tie it all together.

The good news is that we are seeing an increase in the number of automation-specific positions with titles such as ActiveBatch Administrator or enterprise automation architects. These positions, while not C-suite, are heavily focused on bridging the gaps between business processes and IT on an enterprise scale.

While widespread hiring of CAOs is not a reality today, it doesn’t appear to be too far off. With recent examples of outages due to automation breakdowns making the headlines, as well as the growing complexity of IT Operations, the need for an individual or centralized team that can deliver automation engineered from the top is growing.

Join the Conversation. Do you think its time for the rise of the Chief Automation Officer?

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Kaitlin Olcott was a contributor to IT Automation Without Boundaries, covering workload automation, data center automation, cloud management, and more.