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Empower teams with governance: how CIOs can lead successful automation projects

By John Kucera, SVP Product Management, Salesforce & Liam Doyle, SVP Product Management, MuleSoft

It’s no longer viable to have unnecessary delays or points of friction in business processes. To deliver on expectations for an all-digital customer and enable a work-from-anywhere world, companies need to find ways to enable their employees to make decisions and move faster. And low code has made it easier to do just that. 

Companies are increasingly using low code to accelerate automation projects that support digital transformation projects, and free up employees to put their time towards more meaningful and strategic work. New research shows that over half (55%) of organizations now have a “very mature” or “mature” strategy empowering non-technical users to integrate apps and data sources powered by APIs — up from 36% in 2021.

As low-code automation gains momentum, the role of the CIO is to make automation capabilities more accessible and available to the organization. But the tension lies in balancing autonomy and accountability. In an environment that’s more complex than ever, how do you cede design and delivery, while maintaining compliance, reliability, privacy, and security requirements that are at an all-time high? How do you decide which processes can be automated by line of business teams and which ones should be automated by developers?

To navigate these challenges, consider the following strategies.

Lead the culture shift that low code requires

Part of your responsibility as CIO is to help reframe how people view automation. Automation isn’t simply a way to digitize your existing processes. It’s an opportunity to completely reimagine them. And that calls for a transformation mindset. Take the time to map out transformation initiatives and goals while developing new products and services and reducing risk, but also enable more people to leverage automation to innovate—improving the employee and customer experience. Once united on this, the whole company attracts and retains the best talent, delivers better customer outcomes, and ultimately drives more growth.

In addition to rethinking business processes, it’s also important to rethink how teams work together. Research from Gartner shows that at least 84% of companies have set up fusion teams, “multidisciplinary teams that blend technology and other types of domain expertise” to deliver more value — faster. The best performing CIOs are recognizing the importance of this collaboration, and leaning into new ways of working with standardized automation tools to enable this culture to thrive. Not only does this reduce cost and maximize project success, but when everyone has access to the same technology, it makes it easier to automate workflows that involve multiple departments, such as closing a B2B deal which touches sales, revenue, operations, and legal teams.

With automation happening across the business, it’s also critical that modularity and re-use are the core of the effort, allowing business teams and IT to share common components and radically improve efficiency and time to value. This makes your business more efficient, able to scale more quickly as multiple teams automate processes in parallel. Not only this, but taking a composable approach to automation ensures IT can secure and govern these components, so the business teams can automate with confidence. 

Build trust by communicating the why

While CIOs remain responsible for driving efficiency, productivity, and cost management, the role is evolving. Today, you’re much closer to the business outcomes you can help drive. 

It’s important to get everyone in the organization on the same page with clear communication around why you’re using automation and how it will help drive desired outcomes. For example, delivering automation tools that make it easy to build a just-in-time process that reduces inventory costs by matching inventory levels and fulfillment to actual demand. Getting clear on goals and communicating that in a consistent way will help you build the trust, buy-in, and collaboration you need.

When you’re talking to business users, explain the value of automation in a way that aligns with their goals: increased accuracy, productivity, and performance, and showcase how it ultimately leads to a better work experience. Since employees may be concerned about how automation will impact their role at the company, share the positive changes that automation brings. For example, research found that 91% of full-time workers say automation solutions save them time and offer better work/life balance. In addition, 89% of employees are more satisfied with their job and 84% are more satisfied with their company as a result of using automation at work.

Empower business developers, but stay grounded in governance

Every organization is operating in a more complex environment than ever before. As you invite more builders into the mix and empower the business with low code, you also need to maintain your organization’s posture on everything from data privacy laws, to strict compliance in regulated markets, to preventing cybersecurity threats. That calls for clear expectations around roles and governance, and the importance they play to the health of the business. 

Business developers can solve lots of problems with low-code or no-code tools. They understand how processes work and can pinpoint opportunities for improvement. But there are times when IT needs to build, maintain, and enhance an automated process with pro-code building blocks and tackle bigger challenges. This is especially relevant when considering parts of the process that impact data integrity, privacy, security, compliance, and scalability.

Consider delegating automation projects where risk is low, such as automating creation of follow up tasks following sales calls. This requires minimal IT governance since it’s a fairly siloed process, and there’s minimal impact on security and data management across different business systems. However, automating something as complex as an insurance claims process will require strict governance because of the increased risk when data is shared from one system to another and across departments. 

You’ll also find it makes sense to work closely with the business team from the beginning. The insurance claims process previously mentioned, for instance, is highly structured with interrelated logic which means it will require more IT involvement to review, test, and make sure it’s working as expected. This is the goal of fusion teams. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all governance, which makes it important to establish early on who is responsible throughout the whole lifecycle. What does IT own? What does the business team own? Who’s responsible for triaging and fixing issues that crop up? If you don’t resolve this early in the process, it can lead to friction later.

Expand automation with confidence

Low code breaks down silos between teams, systems, and processes. And it’s up to the CIO to strengthen collaboration between IT and the business, while also mandating governance and security to maintain trust across the organization. But you don’t have to tackle this alone. Many CIOs establish a “center for enablement” — a cross-functional team to promote collaboration, drive self-reliance, oversee right-sized governance, and improve results through feedback and results. 

As you take steps in this direction, continue to set reasonable goals, measure incremental wins, and communicate progress on an ongoing basis. This will help you build momentum in this new environment defined by the partnership of business and IT. 

Whatever your path is, stay focused on the larger opportunity. Years of competitive advantage are within the grasp of those organizations that can harness the benefits of business and IT working together.

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