Co-authored by Oracle’s EMEA Cloud Insight team, this article looks at the impact of automation and how CIOs can – and should – become agents of change in four simple steps.
Automation and artificial intelligence are having a major impact across a wide range of professions. From manufacturing to transport and accounting, autonomous systems – using a combination of automation and machine learning technologies – are bringing new levels of self-driving capabilities to an increasing number of rules-based or highly repetitive roles, in some cases making entire business functions redundant.
IT is no exception. As a deterministic and engineering-based discipline, it is of little surprise that autonomous technology is taking on more and more of the roles within this area. The question now is not whether the tech function will be automated, but how quickly, and what tasks will remain in the human domain once the benefits of automation have been fully realised.
Not surprisingly, this is leading to a re-evaluation of the role of the leader of the IT function – the CIO, and the value they and their team brings.
Typically, the IT department is judged on a scale between a being a cost centre and a provider of value-added services. Similarly, the tasks performed adhere to a binary definition of either contributing to “run” (operations) or “change” (innovation). Currently, the current balance typically leans more towards the former rather than the latter.
Nor surprisingly then, only a very few CIOs from non-technology businesses sit on their organisation’s board of directors and their focus is more on operations than innovation. Indeed, in many organisations responsibility for innovation has been lifted out of the technology department and placed into the hands of CMOs and newly-created roles such as chief digital officers (CDOs).
With the operations side of the IT function deemed more as a cost rather than adding value, and with automation taking over what many might consider as key tasks, some might see the value of the CIO and his team as diminishing.
The shifting focus
The question for CIOs now is how to ensure career longevity and shift their efforts away from the ‘run’ tasks and towards those related to ‘change’?
The answer ironically may be to embrace the very same technology that is causing this disruption in the first place. In fact, it is the operations side of IT is the most likely element to gain the greatest benefit from automation, in terms of the redistribution of tasks.
Low-level and repetitive functions will be automated and staff freed up for higher-value tasks. Database administrators will gain the potential to evolve to become data architects or have the opportunity to be reassigned to other parts of the business to sit alongside business function teams. Over time roles such as server administrator or network administrator will also be ‘automated’ away.
A new model
Another possible outcome for the IT department is to move to a gig-economy model, where the CIO leads a small team of strategists and architects with the operational roles mostly automated or undertaken by service providers. The shift towards cloud will also see much of the software administration tasks automated or handed back to the developers.
Those tasks that cannot be delivered on an as-a-Service basis, such as ‘build a cluster’ or ‘run a penetration-test’, will evolve to become micro IT services that are fulfilled by external service providers who are also making use of automation.
Lead don’t be lead
These changes will likely take place regardless of whether the IT department is a willing participant or not. As organisations become more and more data reliant for decision making, the accompanying need to analyse data at high velocity will mean that existing manual architectures and processes simply won’t be able to respond with the speed and flexibility their organisation needs.
To remain relevant in this new era, the CIO must reinvent themselves. Whether they can add value in this new world will rely very much on their ability to build their skills above the automation layer.
Becoming agents of change
To do this, there are four key areas CIOs should be investing in now to retain relevancy, and advance themselves within their organisation and become agents of change.
- Technology Selection: Leading the way in defining the most suitable autonomous technology to deliver operational efficiencies and therefore create business value;
- Technology Investment: Being able to apply rational financial analysis to determine the business value of IT investments and decisions, and present these to the line-of-business leaders with demand forecasting and costing for planning and execution – after all, just because you can automate activity, doesn’t mean you always should;
- Technology Portfolio Management: Execution management with benefit monitoring and combining /divesting technologies to maximise the value of investment outcome; and
- Business Advisory: Providing innovation and investment insight for businesses and other functions, leveraging the benefits of technology return management and autonomous analytics.
This last one is the most critical, as it leverages the CIO’s domain expertise to deliver true value to the business. By acting as the forward scout into the world of technology-driven change a CIO can play the role of influencer in the organisation, using their knowledge to be both a problem solver and trendsetter.
This most definitely means that autonomous services are not guaranteed to make the CIO redundant. When properly understood and leveraged, they provide an opportunity to strengthen the CIO’s position as a low-cost, agile and business-focused member of the organisation’s senior management team (SMT). The change also provides the opportunity for the CIO to be freed up to add value in other ways beyond just an operational role.
The role of the CIO is constantly changing. To survive as a valued CIO in a time when autonomous technologies are making a strong impact on IT, perhaps a phrase to take to heart is that from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest, or largest, or fastest of a species that survives, it is the one most adaptable to change.”