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According to Mulesoft’s 2021 Connectivity Benchmark report, 77% of IT leaders across the globe cite the need to streamline operations via digital transformation. And one of the key ways to enable that transformation is to rely upon business automation. There are advantages and challenges in committing to a business automation strategy, and I’ll highlight them here. 

The good news is that most IT shops have already been through a major digital transformation of their software engineering programs, and CIOs can use that experience to jumpstart the next wave of automation transformation, too.

Learning from 10 years of DevOps

The last 10 years have seen the rise of automation at the build stage of IT. This effort to improve quality and consistency has grown into the DevOps movement we see today in all types of businesses. Companies know the value of enabling and empowering build teams and successful organizations are not just investing in DevOps tools, they’re also updating both their tactical and strategic goals in order to take into account the ability to deliver higher quality code to production at a faster pace. A decade later, according to the 2021 State of Devops Report, build automation continues to transform IT engineering teams going forward.

Tackling the integration challenge

A continuing challenge for IT shops is the ability to quickly and reliably integrate microservices into targeted solutions using APIs as the glue. To meet the growing demand, some are bringing robotic process automation (RPA) and low-code tools into the fold. The advantage of these tools is that they offer a lower barrier of entry, provide a kind of self-service integration option while bypassing the tedious details of mounting a large-scale integration project within the company.

The ability to purchase stand-alone automation tools to wire up existing APIs and services into useful solutions is a great idea, but it has its challenges. If not handled properly, these tools will turn into another shadow IT effort running outside the boundaries of IT security and strategic review. As in all IT initiatives, it is important that CIOs safeguard the company’s digital assets and intellectual property by centralizing observability and governance while distributing functionality and democratizing the ability to quickly, safely, and reliably solve customer problems.

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Key factors for empowering successful business automation

Recent experience has shown there are a number of key factors that typically ensure successful business automation efforts. And they should look familiar:

  • Composability: APIs and services are designed, built, and deployed to maximize findability and reusability.
  • Automation guidelines: Just as companies spend time establishing style guides for safe, effective services and APIs, you also need consistent and coherent best practices guidelines for selecting, installing, and managing your automation platform.
  • Portability: Agile implementation of your automation solutions means avoiding technology and vendor lock-in.
  • Democratization: Using automation tooling that lowers the barrier of entry for solving business problems means you can safely and successfully distribute capabilities throughout the company, including outside traditional IT boundaries.
  • Leading from the top: Distributing integration capabilities works best when the CIO office can raise the level of observability and support without getting in the way of the teams contributing creative solutions.

Recognizing the strategic value of business automation

Successful companies recognize this new round of automation as the next step in IT planning and execution. In these companies, RPA and low-code tools are not relegated to a shadow IT role. Instead, they are elevated to a key tactical as well as strategic element of a nimble information architecture. 

Business automation tooling helps promote the use and reuse of what Gartner calls packaged business capabilities or PBCs. After spending years using DevOps to automate build and deployment, organizations are ready to leverage their composable enterprise into lightweight, targeted solutions. And that’s where business process automation comes into play.

CIOs are the enablers

Typically, those closest to the customer have a better notion of both the pain points and the solutions customers are facing. However, they may not be able to see the strategic vision. Adding automation tools in a piecemeal manner, department-by-department, can reduce security, interoperability, and agility. What’s needed is a big picture perspective.

The good news is that CIOs are in the position to be the enablers of this added agility by helping to select, manage, monitor, and properly govern this new wave of automation tooling. By democratizing the integration efforts — shifting forward, if you will — CIOs become the source of agility rather than the ones preventing progress. 

The question is not whether or not your company will be relying on business automation in the near future; the trends are clear. The real challenge is how — and when — you lead the company in a successful and empowering digital transformation using business automation.

Start building a winning automation strategy with our CIO guide to enabling automation.