Gartner Sees Need for a Chief Robotics Officer

September 15, 2021

With robotics and automation taking over more tasks in organizations, the role of the chief robotics officer (CRO) should be created to strategically drive the proliferation of these technologies, according to Gartner.

“Nearly every business is going to have a robot doing something for them within the next decade,” said Dwight Klappich, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice. “In fact, we interviewed 517 supply chain professionals from November to December of 2020 and found that 96% of respondents had used, or plan to use, cyber-physical automation in warehousing and manufacturing operations.”

The Need for a Chief Robotics Officer

Innovation has kept up with demand, and the robotics market offers a variety of options to potential buyers. However, many organizations lack the internal robotics and automation expertise and don’t know enough to make an informed and strategic decision. The vast majority of companies have yet to figure out who owns, and should manage, their growing fleets of robots.

“Automation is going to be much more strategy-led going forward. If a retailer wants to establish an automated micro fulfillment center, there needs to be a strategy on how this will come to be. Someone must take on the leadership role and develop this strategy and the organization to implement it. This person needs in-depth technology skills, but also must have a sense for how automation fits into the broader organization and drives value to the business,” Klappich said.

Chief Robotics Officer Roles Require a Composite Skillset

The CRO role ideally combines skills from the engineering, IT and business realms. The challenge is that there are many cultural differences between those areas. Engineers want to make things as safe as possible, even if it takes more time for testing. IT values agile processes and likes to fail fast and move on. Lastly, the business mindset is to think about the value of humans, resources, and processes and how to best combine them. Finding someone who can balance these often-conflicting cultures will be game changing.

CROs must have a deep knowledge of how automation works and what the relevant use cases are. They also have to collaborate with IT and develop a strategy for implementing new robot or automation initiatives within the existing IT environment. Lastly, they need to align their strategy to the overall business strategy and be a partner to their executive colleagues.

“The CRO role in supply chain will evolve similar to the CIO role in IT and start gaining in importance over the decade. If an organization is already automation-heavy, or wants to be, it’s best to start out with establishing a robotics center of excellence and work their way from there,” Klappich concluded.

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