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There definitely have been easier years than 2022 for trying to start a business. Compared to larger firms, smaller companies have a harder time absorbing shocks like inflation changes, supply chain disruptions, and changing demographics in the workplace. We see evidence that investors are starting to prefer to see proof of profits, rather than growth, an anathema to the startup founders of only a few years ago. At the same time, founders who embrace technological innovation have an immense opportunity. 

Through our work with companies of all sizes across industries around the world, we see that the convergence of these trends explains the increased focus on “intelligent automation” as organizations embark on digital transformation journeys. By applying artificial intelligence (AI) to IT operations (AIOps), robotic process automation (RPA), decision management, and business automation, companies can reduce costs and do more with less. Intelligent automation also helps to combat the global skills shortage by allowing employees to work on more engaging, value-adding tasks, as well as helps companies deliver exceptional customer experiences. 

Nine out of 10 employees who have used automation-based tools have improved their work-life balance. In short, automating processes makes companies healthier — with the critical caveat that they are applied thoughtfully, keep an eye on the user and employee experience, and provide a deliberate assessment of how the automation of a certain process impacts the organization as a whole. 

With this background as context, the role of the chief automation officer (CAO) becomes an important investment in a company’s digital transformation.  Not only is the role of the CAO rapidly emerging, but it is also growing in importance due to the positive impact automation is having on businesses across industries. The CAO will be responsible for implementing business process and IT operations decisions across the enterprise to determine when and what type of automation strategy is best suited for each business imperative while working with a wide range of leaders across all business pillars. 

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As part of a collaborative process, the CIO identifies areas for automation and modernization, the chief data officer (CDO) collects data insights from automating workflows, the chief AI officer (CAIO) implements advanced AI methods and algorithms in automation processes, and the COO align on change management. 

With the right automation processes and team in place, CAOs can measure success on the following indicators:

1. Every industry vertical and use case can benefit from AI and automation

AI-powered automation enables organizations to apply intelligence across their business, bridging gaps in workflows between business and IT. For example, IBM uses this approach of actionable intelligence to help organizations automate IT operations and business processes to lower costs and improve user experiences.

The CAO can use AI and automation to understand relationships and correlations, derive deep insights, and establish baseline KPIs. Without AI, data discovery associated with automation is mostly limited to structured processes and structured data. With AI, the discovery process is no longer blocked by a lack of structure. By utilizing AI, businesses can move from discovery to decision-making more naturally and collaboratively, increase employee engagement and productivity, and foster a more collaborative relationship between AI and employees.

There is no industry vertical where AI-powered automation’s relevance is not applicable today. Take manufacturing, for example. Automation supported by visualization algorithms can help detect defects in manufactured components on the assembly line. In electronics, automation can be used to detect the sounds of break-ins or automatic control of electrical appliances, in financial services to automate payments or customer behavior data, and in retail to transform the customer’s shopping experience. 

2. To combat the growing skills gap, a deeper focus on higher value work is needed

As baby boomers are leaving the market, approximately 2.4 million fewer workers are entering every year. The pandemic has also impacted many companies’ ability to recruit and overall values around work-life balance, impacting the skills available in the workforce. 

In fact, according to IBM’s recent Global AI Adoption Index 2022, the data shows steady AI adoption as organizations look to address skills shortages and automate processes. For example, by automating tasks for skilled workers so they can be more productive, or by using AI-assisted learning or employee engagement. Almost one-in-four companies are adopting AI because of labor or skills shortages, and 30% of global IT professionals say employees at their organization are already saving time with new AI and automation software abd tools. 

3. IT operations and core business processes are ripe for transformation

As I mentioned, AI and automation can transform IT and business processes to help improve efficiencies, save costs and enable people — employees — to focus on higher-value work. 

Two of the most important areas of IT operations in the enterprise are issue avoidance and issue resolution because of the massive impact they have on cost, productivity, and brand reputation. The rapid digital expansion among enterprises has led to an immediate uptick in demand from IT leaders to embrace AIops tools to increase workflow productivity and ensure proactive, continuous application performance. With AIops, IT systems and applications are more reliable, and complex work environments can be managed more proactively, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can enable IT staff to focus on high-value work instead of laborious, time-consuming tasks, and identify potential issues before they become major problems.

In addition to applying AI and automation to help improve IT operations, business automation is also well-suited for streamlining processes across just about every area of an organization. A few examples include sending out marketing emails to a client distribution list on a pre-defined schedule, automating job application processing, interview scheduling, employment offers, onboarding, payroll management, and benefits administration in human resources or automating repetitive tasks like qualifying leads, assigning prospects and automating invoices in sales and accounting. 

As organizations of all sizes continue to digitize and modernize their workflows, the CAO can help guide how AI and automation are used to modernize legacy IT systems and streamline business processes, so employees can focus on projects that are truly impactful. 

The CAO is important because their experience is versatile. Not only can they use AI to power automation across many industry verticals and use cases to address the growing gap in skilled workers, but they can also work hand-in-hand with the CIO, the CDO, the CAIO and the COO to transform core business functions that impact the bottom line. 

Dinesh Nirmal is the general manager of data, AI and automation at IBM.

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