How AI will profoundly transform the Role of the CIO

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now permeating into our businesses and even governments. The technology plays a significant role in developing a digital workforce.

More than automating and removing manual tasks from a worker’s daily job scope, AI creates the need for workers to adopt digital skills to thrive in a digitally enabled environment.

It no longer is a question of if, but when, especially with the continued growth of AI adoption rates in ASEAN, supported by sustained public and private sector efforts. Singapore’s recent $500 million investment to develop artificial intelligence systems and establish Singapore’s leadership in this frontier technology is one such example.

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With AI accelerating the realities of a digital workplace, this will have implications on every job function. In particular, the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) will be profoundly transformed. Increasingly responsible for charting the strategic direction of the company, CIOs will need to face challenges of digital change management head-on. This includes helping human workers understand how to work alongside their digital colleagues while also ensuring cybersecurity.

Even as CIOs in our region find themselves in the heat of digital transformation and change, what are the developments that they will need to navigate, and how can they do so successfully? There are three significant shifts CIOs will find themselves encountering in the years to come.

CIOs must be at the helm of digital leadership

Legacy corporations now compete with “digital native” companies – the likes of Amazon and Grab – who have automated almost every aspect of their business. Customer demand, business scale, and customer issues need to be handled and actioned upon automatically and instantly. To compete, every company must automate across all domains, to drive higher levels of productivity and seamless customer service.

In the future workforce, humans will work alongside machines to do meaningful work. We are already seeing companies lead the way to embark on this journey.

An example is the University of Melbourne’s (UoM) use of robotic process automation (RPA), in response to challenges of overwhelming back-end approvals faced by its student admissions team. Prior to implementation, the UoM team struggled with a labour-intensive process of manual data entry. They urgently needed to find a solution to manage a growing volume of applications, while improving customer experience at the same time.

Following the deployment of bots, the university was able to automate a total of 22 processes, including the entry of all data and attachments for new admission applications. Since then, they have reported over 10,000 hours of labour saved annually and increased efficiency of critical business processes. Most importantly, the teachers and student body were noted to have improved staff engagement and customer experience levels. This reflects how automation goes beyond innovation; and lies in the very heart of improving enterprise efficiency.  

CIOs will work more closely with CHROs as a result of cognitive technologies

Silos of business roles and responsibilities are increasingly making way for greater integration and cross-collaboration as a result of changing customer needs. The CIO and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) roles will be more interdependent as the workforce of the future melds human and digital workers. This will not result in the displacement of human workers. Instead, a convergence of the best of human creativity and the power of technology.

CIOs play a crucial role in directing this change by bringing to the table innovation priorities and technological implementations, while working with CHROs to ensure their workplaces and employees are trained to harness digital technology effectively.

Additionally, CIOs need to be part of a strategic task force that navigates the impacts of automation. This includes work redistribution, shifting roles and responsibilities as well as the creation of new roles.

Even as talent remains a finite resource, the retention and attraction of skilled professionals in this new age remains crucial. It is vital that employees feel empowered through the automation process, take on higher levels of responsibility and more meaningful tasks as a result of seamless data integration. Which in turn, derives high-level insights to improve service delivery.

Enterprises thus require the combined expertise of their CIOs and CHROs to optimise this collaboration between humans and their digital counterparts – one that maximises efficiency while ensuring that the resulting experience of human workers is a positive one.

ANZ Bank provides an excellent example as an organisation that created broad organisational support and understanding to employees while embarking on automation. From experts to business users and even senior operations leadership, they managed to get all employees involved in deploying automation. This generated great organisational buzz and excitement over the associated productivity improvements from the deployment of over 100 robots, with 900 more bots set to be added over the next year.

Digital transformation needs to be harnessed as key for strategic growth

The World Economic Forum predicts that digital transformation will drive US$100 trillion in value for businesses over the next ten years, but CIOs often stand at the doorway of this change. As enterprises accelerate digital transformation, CIOs will be required to make accurate strategic decisions on digital deployments for their organisation. This will in turn impact business growth – a vital performance indicator that modern CIOs will be measured by.

The surest way for business growth to be evident is through programs and initiatives that positively impact a business’ customers and end users at the end of the day. In the example of Cartus, an industry leader in corporate relocation programs in more than 180 countries, RPA was harnessed in its finance and accounting functions. Cartus “removed the robot” from the daily duties of employees such as eliminating repetitive tasks. The 26 bots deployed ultimately translated into improved value to clients and customers, with a recorded 21 percent increase in client satisfaction.

CIOs who wish to drive transformation for their organisations need to consider the bigger picture at hand. They need to shift IT perceptions from being a cost center to a strategic asset, by ultimately translating its tangible benefits and impacts on a business’ most important stakeholders.  

Successfully conducting the AI symphony

In conclusion, one of the common mistakes that CIOs make when implementing automation is believing that their work is complete once bots are up and running.

The truth is, like any other tool, bots can provide increasing value when continuously improved. This requires creating a virtuous loop with data modeling, process execution, and feeding real-world results back into the model. This in turn, requires CIOs to understand the areas of data creation, telemetry, analysis, normalisation, retention, bias removal, and other related aspects to get the best out of AI.

Beyond an expansion of the CIO’s technical responsibilities and capabilities, AI will require CIOs to balance their technological know-how and leadership responsibilities. This involves having the CIOs successfully pivoting their talent toward enhancing productivity in a digital-first workplace, and championing a shift toward greater interdependency between humans and machines. All of which in a bid to ultimately propel the business toward transformation.