Automation: How to prioritize and optimize your strategy

Top business leaders from the 2023 Florida CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards share insights on how to tap the power of automation while avoiding pitfalls.
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Automation has become an essential tool that helps leaders free up talent for more high-level tasks and facilitate new insights and revenue streams, according to Pillars of Resilient Digital Transformation, a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. In short, automation helps CIOs simplify processes and reduce manual work.

Winners of the 2023 Florida CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards agree that choosing the right automation projects, developing a solid strategy for automation rollout, and staying data- and customer-driven are keys to success.

Read on for their advice on what to prioritize this year–and how to stay ahead of common barriers.

Pay attention to the details: data and adoption

Dwayne Allen

Dwayne Allen, SVP & CTO, Unisys: The best way to determine the opportunities is to look at the biggest problem, challenge, or efficiency drain in your organization. Fixing these issues will also motivate the highest business engagement. Once identified, it’s important to really think through the outcomes and the targeted impact, followed by thoughtfully mapping out the critical steps necessary to ensure success.

The barriers usually rear their heads in the mapping of the critical steps. While we typically think about processes and tools, the killer is usually data and adoption. There are always various facets to data analysis, structuring, transformation, and integration needed to get the expected functionality of an automation project. But if adoption, communication, and training aren’t done well, the automation effort could be diluted or even abandoned. Because the key participants and stakeholders aren’t prepared, you miss the benefit. The devil remains in the details.

[ Related read CIOs and automation: How to build a robust automation strategy. ]

Take a customer-first approach

Carrie Busbee

Carrie Busbee, CIO, Core & Main: Automation relies on information. The better the quality of the data, the better your outcomes.

In 2023, we will continue investments in the technology used to automate, including DevOps, cybersecurity, and business process automation. However, in 2023, our key focus is on clean and accurate data to drive insights and investments that deliver the right outcomes.

As in most industries, there are an unlimited number of business cases vying for automation, and we are focusing on our critical differentiators to ensure we automate for success. That means putting our customers at the center of those use cases and using automation to help our industry drive efficiencies and growth. The closer our decision points can get to the most important problems, the better value for everyone.

Ethical AI/ML and automation

Gary Flowers

Gary Flowers, CIO, Year Up: Automation efforts are an ongoing part of adding value from a CIO standpoint. I always say if I can give a user 15 minutes back in their day, they can take five of those to help find other automation opportunities we can work on next.

In 2023, I believe the advent of automation through the use of ethical artificial intelligence and machine language can help the organization automate decisions that otherwise are not obvious or that are extremely time-consuming.

The challenge for CIOs is finding the right niche, where artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) are valued as an essential path to automation and not just a buzzword trend. In my opinion, the way that happens is to speak specifically to department goals that tie back to organizational goals.

An example could be, “We are looking to decrease the drop off from an enrollment funnel from one step to the next.” The change could be AI/ML answers to questions before they are asked based on history or predetermined patterns. These patterns could help increase the number of people in the funnel, which by default increases the enrollment, which is tied directly to an organizational goal.

Use RPA intentionally

Lisa Cochran

Lisa Cochran, CIO, VyStar Credit Union: At VyStar Credit Union, our process improvement organization has been evaluating business processes and identifying opportunities to automate them with traditional robotic process automation (RPA) bots for the past couple of years. We’ve found that bots can drive business improvements, but how you automate is just as important as what you automate. Because RPA overlays on top of the existing technology, it doesn’t resolve outdated technology and technical debt.

Our process improvement program is evolving in 2023 with the help of a decision tree. This enables us to first identify process gaps and opportunities, and then apply the most appropriate lens to get the most value at the right speed. Risk/reward decision-making and transparency on the deferred costs of the solution are layered in. For example, if there is a back-office function to key account data manually, we can consider:

  • Disbanding and eliminating the function entirely by digitizing the front of the process and leveraging APIs and microservices to eliminate the need for paper altogether
  • Minimizing the effort required by tuning the AI to get improved accuracy, reducing the number of people needed to do the function
  • Reducing the time required for people to do their jobs by deploying bots without any underlying tech changes by traditional bot methodologies

By taking a step back and being intentional about the “how” not just the “what” with a bot strategy, we will drive further value with our process improvement and automation program in 2023.

[ Get advice from leading CIOs on how to overcome common digital transformation challenges. Download the Ebook: Build a resilient IT culture. ]

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Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.