What is a chief automation officer, and do you need one?



It’s known by now that automation creates jobs as much as it absorbs them. One such newly created role is that of the chief automation officer, or CAO.

With a place alongside the other head honchos of the C-suite, the CAO role represents the growth of automation technology. Once a minor nice-to-have, automation software is now an operational necessity with high-level bearings and business impact.

Chief automation officer remains an emerging position. So, what exactly is a chief automation officer, what are their duties, how has the role come to exist, and — crucially — do you need one?


What is a chief automation officer?

A chief automation officer oversees business process decisions. Namely, they decide whether (and how) to use digital labour / automation or human labour for any given task or process. This responsibility would cover both the IT team, and the business as a whole. (Bridging any gap between the two.)

So, having a CAO is akin to having a bridge that connects the benefits of automation to the objectives of the business.

The chief automation officer would need to examine the specific goals of the business. They’ll also need extensive knowledge of the organisation and how it runs. This includes consideration of the complexity of the tasks to be (potentially) automated, and the technology available to them.

From there, the CAO’s duty would be to choose the best strategies and solutions to perform those tasks and set them in motion.

The duties of the CAO would also cover ongoing management. They’ll need to oversee the strategies implemented, the teams that are setting up the automation, and the teams that are directly impacted by its use. (For instance, ensuring there is appropriate change support, that any ‘hidden work’ is recognised, and so on.)


The rise of the CAO role

So, what has prompted the rising need for a chief automation officer? Simply, it’s the proliferation of automation technology in today’s workplace.

Increasingly, automation is a must-have, not a luxury. Due to the efficiency and productivity boosts of automation adoption, companies stand to quickly fall behind their competitors should they remain reliant on manual processes.

And this competitive gap is ever widening. Automation and AI alike are improving at pace, with continued research and development. As the technology offers increasing gains, the need to adopt, deploy, and manage automation is only set to grow more.

Plus, all the while that automation evolves and expands, so too do the challenges of keeping apace. For example, businesses must keep up with hiring needs for the new jobs that automation creates. They’ll need to navigate internal disruption as teams and processes change. They’ll have to set scaling plans for ongoing growth and productivity gains.

This all culminates in the role of CAO becoming more prevalent and necessary as time goes on.


Do you need a chief automation officer?

The question that remains isn’t whether you need a chief automation officer or not. As automation continues to grow in use, the question isn’t a case of if but when.

You will eventually need a CAO — it’s set to become as important a role as any other C-suite level executive out there.


Useful links

What is digital labour?

The awkward interplay of man vs machine

The hidden work caused by AI


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