We’ve just released a major new report, The CIO’s Guide To Automation, AI, And Robotics. We find that, to stay ahead, CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, and other executives integrating leading-edge technologies into their companies’ operations and business models must turn their attention to automation technologies, including intelligent machines, robotic process automation (RPA) bots, artificial intelligence, and physical robotics. Automation encompasses a diverse set of technologies that run the gamut from sensing (gathering and evaluating data to determine when and why to act) to adapting (determining how to act, then sequencing and executing tasks); true automation requires both types of activities.

automation technologies
Full Automation Requires Both The Sense And Adapt Phases Of Technology

Automation continues to gain new prominence as it transforms a wider array of business processes than ever before. It’s reshaping jobs and how we perform them, as we showed in our report The Future of Jobs 2027: Working Side By Side with Robots. It’s altering the operations that underpin customer experience, helping us to design, produce, distribute, and support products and services far more effectively. It’s directly improving customer experiences, allowing companies to employ solutions like personalization — at scale — for the first time.

CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, and other leaders driving technology innovation should keep in mind the wide-ranging impact automation technologies will have on their businesses. These include examples like:

  • AI-enhanced RPA. AI is only one dimension of automation, which also includes many sub-AI-level algorithms and tools. But increasingly, AI suffuses and boosts many different automation technologies — or will do so in the near future. For example, as my colleague Craig Le Clair has shown, while RPA is creating a lot of operational value today, its future lies in cognitive-AI enhancement, a technology convergence that will solve many more business problems and will do so in a more sophisticated fashion.
  • Software-defined infrastructure. Automation starts deep inside a company’s infrastructure; in fact, the modern CIO’s infrastructure is now largely based on software. Infrastructure-as-code, including containers, has become the new foundation of modern enterprise infrastructures.
  • Marketing automation. Automation isn’t just a phenomenon of infrastructure or back-end processes. Marketing automation is reshaping the very basis of how firms communicate with customers and prospects. For example, AI vendor Persado’s marketing technology leverages big data and AI to determine whether specific words and phrases will resonate with prospective customers, conducting large-scale, multifaceted A/B tests to inform these decisions.
  • Computer vision. Automation will increasingly cross the physical-digital divide. One battery manufacturer traditionally used human inspectors to determine whether batteries passed quality assurance tests. The company started with a 2D solution, but later migrated to a fully automated solution using 3D cameras and sophisticated software. Doing so drove new levels of success — a nearly 100% fault detection and elimination of the 2D solution’s 8% to 10% false rejection rate.
  • Physical robotics. And physical robots are finally becoming genuine drivers of business value outside of the automotive industry. Retail and warehouse robotics — which Amazon brought to prominence with its acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012 — is reshaping how firms deliver products through retail and eCommerce. Companies like Fetch Robotics and Geek+ are driving a new wave of business process reengineering, helping Amazon’s competitors reshape warehousing and logistics.

To capitalize on the automation revolution, CIOs must make critical investments. By raising the importance of automation as a discipline within the organization, CIOs can turn automation into a strategic competency — and a source of business model differentiation. To learn how, we invite clients to read the full report, The CIO’s Guide To Automation, AI, And Robotics.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst serving CIOs. He leads Forrester’s research on the impact that robots, AI, and automation technologies have on employment, the economy, and the future of work. He also covers innovation in the context of disruptive devices and interfaces — from PCs to mobile devices, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), software, and intelligent agents. He was named one of the five most important people in the world in the area of wearable computing. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.