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‘CFO should be the guardian of the systems and the processes’

Automation and the C-suite

by Marco van der Hoeven

Automation is a topic which is high on the agenda of the C-suite. Recently contributors to an online event by the CFO community of CFOAX hosted by Armand Angeli discussed the challenges and benefits of robotic process automation (RPA) in their organisations.

“RPA is faster to put in place. It’s new for the businesses, but it’s really very relevant”, said Fares Nabi, Innovation Manager at ODDO. “There are many manual processes today in a business, and there are many different businesses with complex processes. So I think it was a really good idea to create an innovation department to deal with this.”

Roger Camrass of CIONET, who did a survey on the topic, added: “It’simple, it’s off the shelf, so why not get started? I would describe it as Excel on steroids. Anyone can get going. But you have to look at the consequences of that, the consequences of ‘gray IT’. Lots and lots of poorly maintained and documented disconnected capabilities across an organization. The CIO is now beginning to understand what the outcome might look like. And most CIOs have a very busy agenda right now. This is just one more thing on the to do list.”

“Many of them have admitted that RPA is not even in the top ten priorities right now, but they will need to get a hold of this. Otherwise we’re going to get an enormous explosion of robots everywhere. This is really the critical moment in time where the CIO has to become involved. And I think there’s probably 30% of all jobs today in major organizations that can be easily automated, without even touching the critical processes and critical activities. So it’s a fantastic job to be done.”


Michel Hofland, CFO at AkzoNobel Performance Paints, France, said: “If you really want to make a difference you need an end to end approach that takes more time. But it is easier today than it was in the past. Now, with systems that are more platforms, the integration of consistent, specialized solutions within that network are getting easier. Be it in the relation with customers, or in terms of workload from administrative services,  if you really want you can make a difference. That way you will also be able to keep control over the organization and the systems. And this is not only a responsibility of IT, the CFO should also feel compelled to be the guardian of the systems and the processes.”

We are talking about business leaders. CIOs are experts in a technical field, but they have to be experts in the field of business as well, in relation with commercial, marketing and their internal processes. The good leaders in that field are the ones that have this capacity to go outside, they have the technical background, the softer skills, and the capacity to coordinate the work within the management team . They understand operations and customers. So we need those CIOs 2. 0.”


Camrass: “This actually raises a much bigger question about the future of the CIO. The CIO today has the necessary desire to be a member of the C suite, part of the business leadership team, rather than a technical person who’s stuck in a department. So what does that really mean? If that person is a digital leader, rather than a technical expert, the tasks that the CIO is now looking at is, firstly, building the righ teams. There are technical skills required throughout an organization, but they’re highly dispersed.”

“So every business, every change team, every agile team, needs an IT component as well as a business component. So this is a loose community that works right across the whole organization and doesn’t sit neatly in a department anymore. It’s much broader than that.”


“The second thing that’s really important from an IT point of view is the tooling. Knowledge and the capability of deploying RPA in a technical sense is really critical. One CIO said to us recently, ‘if it touches code, it’s ours. If it doesn’t touch code, it’s theirs’. That’s a slightly cynical view of life. But what he’s really saying is that the business gets on with deploying all these tools and techniques. Helping to select those tools through a center of excellence will help train people.”

“There is a need for guardrails to ensure that these these robots,  which will be highly dispersed, do not pose a security risk. You’re talking eventually about thousands of robots in any organization, communicating together. How do you secure that? How do you ensure the data flows work? The old concept of CIOs,  a walled department which is separated from the main businesses, is no longer valid. It’s a much more blurred boundary, a much more blurred responsibility. But most importantly, the CIO is now rising into the C suite and is becoming a key business leader, not just a technical leader, helping to shape the business agenda.”

Hofland: “I couldn’t agree more. Of course, there are differences within industries. Depending on where you stand, depending on the culture of the company, you might decide to organize it differently. But when you look at the number of projects and the challenges that CFOs have on their plate, they cannot do everything. So you need to have the right partner on board, to rely on a CIO that leads the transformation.”

See also:

“Robotic Scale requires that the data are correct and also that the processes are standardised”

Meet one of the pioneers of Robotic Process Automation

‘Operating RPA is about maturity’

You can find the recording here 


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