By now, every CIO and IT department has tested or supported an RPA initiative within their company, whether initiated through IT or the business. Where does your CIO stand on the "Tolerance spectrum"? From outright blocking of RPA initiatives to being a strong supporter, it is important to understand where they are and the reasoning for their position.

The blocker: While the attitude of the CIO is obvious from the category name, this book-end of the tolerance spectrum can have a lot more justification for the position than some of the other categories. AlixPartners often works with companies that may need to rapidly enact cost savings. One CIO of a client actively blocked an RPA initiative that had been sold in through Finance as a rapid cost reduction tool. It simply was not the right time and there were more pressing business matters, and RPA would not be able to deliver the broad cost savings quickly enough. A CIO can not be a blocker forever, but there can be a strong justification for being so.

The initiator: While RPA initiatives often start within the business (typically Finance) they can also be initiated through the IT department. In this case, IT may have experimented with an RPA platform and perhaps tried to automate an IT activity, such as within testing. However, experimentation goes no further and the CIO becomes a "dismisser" (our next category). At a recent client where IT had initiated an RPA program, we uncovered software licenses that were still active and had been procured, but IT had not promoted it within the business leading to lost opportunities for automation which we had uncovered as part of our work there.

The dismisser: A CIO in a strong enough position may feel able to dismiss RPA as "too brittle" or "not strategic" or more frequently thinking that "existing initiatives will make it redundant." RPA does fill an important need, though.  At another recent client, the client's IT department had dismissed RPA as a solution for an important customer-facing project. After several weeks of effort and a demo that had gone poorly, with a hard deadline to meet, we helped the client change course and an RPA solution to the problem was delivered with 72 hours. RPA as a technology may have faults or issues, but it can also deliver far more quickly than traditional IT methods when the problem you are trying to solve is right for it.

The tolerator: CIOs most frequently seem to fall into this bucket. They would never dismiss RPA (entirely), but see it as a user tool in the same way that they see Word, Excel, or Powerpoint. Something for the business people to use, as long as they don't try to "do IT".  RPA initiatives are often stuck within a business function or are being used very tactically, but definitely not seen as a strategic technology. This leads to lost opportunities for, amongst other things, the company to be more agile in changing business processes.

The supporter: Of course, if you really want to be successful, then having a CIO who is an active supporter - in both word and deed - is vital. Even more importantly, IT staff such as business or process analysts may be in a better position to identify great automation opportunities since they often have a much deeper appreciation for process-oriented work, plus they are always talking to business users about issues and opportunities

Understanding why your CIO takes the position they do is important. Key factors to consider include:

  • Your CIO  has a far greater understanding of the technology and its underpinnings than the business does,
  • The IT roadmap may (or may not) include RPA for reasons that they were ahead of months or quarters ago, 
  • They see RPA as being a temporary answer that would take funds from the strategic program, 
  • They have an emotional attachment to leading-edge technology (and there are many CIOs who may see this as very much NOT leading-edge technology, for good reasons)
  • There are political forces at play that will sway their decision making (if the CFO or CEO is a strong supporter, that may be a factor)
  • An RPA initiative may support or negate a shadow IT function they are trying to build/squash.

Your CIO may be somewhere between a blocker or a supporter of RPA technology, but it is important to understand their position while ensuring that "doing IT" does not get in the way of enabling the business to be more agile, driving change faster and more cost-effectively.