6 min read

The world is moving swiftly towards an automated culture and this means more and more machines will enter the fray. There’ve been umpteen debates on whether this is a good or bad thing – talks of how fortune tellers might be overtaken by Artificial Intelligence, etc. From the progress mankind has made, benefiting from these machines, we can safely say for now, that it’s only been a boon. With this explosion of moving and thinking metal, there’s a strong need for some governance at a top level. It now looks like we need to shift a bit to make more room at the C-level table, cos we’ve got the Master of the Machines arriving!

Well “Master of the Machines” does sound cool, although not many companies would appreciate the “professionalism” of the term. The point is, the rise of a brand new C-level role, the Chief Robotics Officer, seems just on the horizon. Like we did in the Chief Data Officer article, we’re going to tell you more about this role and its accompanying responsibilities and by the end, you’ll be able to understand whether your organisation needs a CRO.

Facts and Figures

As far as I can remember, one of the first Chief Robotics Officers (CRO), was John Connor (#challengeme). Jokes apart, the role was introduced at the Chief Robotics Officer (CRO) Summit after having been spoken quite a lot in 2015. You’ve probably heard about this role by another name – Chief Autonomy Officer. Gartner predicts that 10% of large enterprises in supply-chain industries will have created a CRO position by 2020. Cisco states that as many as 60% of industries like logistics, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, etc,will have a CRO by 2025.

The next generation of AI and Robots will affect workforce, business models, operations and competitive position of leading organisations. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Boston Consulting Group projects that the market for robots will reach $67 billion by 2025.

Why all the fuss?

It’s quite evident that robots and smart machines will soon take over/redefine the way a lot of jobs are currently being performed by humans. This means that robots will be working alongside humans and as such there’s a need for the development of principles, processes, and disciplines that govern or manage this collaboration. According to Myria research, “The CROs (and their teams) will be at the forefront of technology, to translate technology fluency into clear business advantages, and to maintain Robotics and Intelligent Operational Systems (RIOS) capabilities that are intimately linked to customer-facing activities, and ultimately, to company performance”.

With companies like Amazon, Adidas, Crowne Plaza Hotels and Walmart already deploying robots worth millions in research, to move in the direction of automation, there is clearly a need for a CRO.

What might the Chief Robotics Officer’s responsibilities be?

If you search for job listings of the role, you probably won’t succeed because the role is still in the making and there are no properly defined responsibilities. Although, if we were to think of what the CRO’s responsibilities might me, here’s what we could expect:

  • Piece the Puzzle together: CROs will be responsible for bringing business functions like Engineering, HR, IT, and others together, implementing and maintaining automation technologies within the technical, social and financial contexts of a company.
  • Manage the Robotics Life Cycle: The CRO would be responsible for defining and managing different aspects of the robotics life cycle. They will need to identify ways and means to improve the way robots function and boost productivity.
  • Code of Conduct: CROs will need to design and develop the principles, processes and disciplines that will manage robots and smart machines, to enable them to collaborate seamlessly with a human workforce.
  • Define Integration: CROs will define robotic environments and integration touch points with other business functions such as supply chain, manufacturing, agriculture, etc.
  • Brand Guardians: With the addition of non-humans in the workforce, CROs will be responsible for the brand health and any violations caused by their robots.
  • Define Management Techniques: CROs will bridge the gap between the machines and humans and will develop techniques that humans can use to manage robotic workers.

On a broader level, these responsibilities look quite similar to those of a Chief Information Officer, Chief Digital Information Officer or even the Director of IT.

Key CRO Skills

Well, with the robots in place people management skills would be lesser required, or not. You might think that a CRO is expected to possess only technical skills because of the nature of the job. Although, they still will have to interact with humans and manage their collaboration with the machines. This brings in the challenge of managing change. Not everyone is comfortable working with machines and a certain amount of understanding and skill will need to be developed. With Brand Management and other strategic goals involved, the CRO must be on their toes moulding the technological side of the business to achieve short and long term goals. IT Managers, those in charge of automation and Directors who are skilled in Robotics, will be interested in scaling up to the position. On another note, there might be over 35% vacant robotics jobs by 2020, owing to the rapid growth of the field.

Futuristic Challenges

Some of the major challenges we expect to see could be managing change and an environment where humans and bots work together. The European Union has been thinking of considering robots as “electronic persons” with rights in the near future. This will result in complications about who is right and who is wrong. Moreover, there are plans about rewarding and penalising bots, based on their performance. How do you penalize a bot? Maybe penalising would come in the form of not charging the bot for a few days or formatting it’s memory, if it’s been naughty! Or rewards could be in the form of a software update or debugging it more frequently? These probably sound silly at the moment, but you never know what the future might have in store.

The Million $ Question: Do we need a CRO?

So far, there haven’t been any companies that have publicly announced about hiring a CRO, although many manufacturing companies already have senior roles related to robotics, such as Vice President of Advanced Automation and Robotics, or Vice President of Advanced Engineering. However, these roles are purely technical and not strategic. It’s clear that there needs to be someone at the high table calling the shots and strategies for a collaborative future, and world where robots and machines will work in harmony. Remy Glaisner of Myria Research predicts that the CROs will occupy a strategic role on a par with CIOs within the next five to eight years. CIOs might even get replaced by CROs in the long run. You never know, in the future the CRO might work with a bot themselves – the bot helping in taking decisions at an organisation/strategic level. The sky’s the limit!

In the end, small, medium or even a large sized businesses that are already planning to hire a CRO to drive automation, are on the right track. A careful evaluation of the benefits of having one in your organisation to lead your strategy, will help you decide on whether to take the CRO path or not. With automation bound to increase in importance in a coming years, it looks as though strategic representation will be inevitable for people with skills in the field.


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