The Role of a CRO and the Challenges Facing Enterprises Attempting to Implement Robotics Solutions

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Lux recently attended RoboBusiness 2016 and its Chief Robotics Officer (CRO) Summit, where the role of the CRO was presented and discussed from a variety of viewpoints, including the perspective of Poul Martin Møller, CRO to the Region of South Denmark. If one hasn’t heard of the term, that’s because it is quite new and at this point more of a concept than a legitimate position within an organization. An analogy can be drawn to the term “chief information officer” (CIO), which was introduced in the 1980s and 1990s; those that predict the emergence of the CRO look at how the role of CIO, while indispensable today, was nearly unheard of back then, with only a small fraction of IT departments utilizing the title. The title of CRO could be expected to follow a similar trajectory, as well, as it is about structuring a corporate function that is intended to embrace a technology family in support of the rest of the business – robotics and automation, in this case. Today, the hypothetical role of the CRO can be spread across existing roles like the CIO, COO, etc., and really has to do with placing responsibility on a person or group for the implementation and integration of automation solutions across an organization.

While the term is more fluff than anything else due to the lack of fully defined responsibilities, there are people operating today under the title of CRO. Lux heard from one such person, Poul, and his message rang clear: taking on the responsibility of implementing automation solutions across an entire organization is filled with challenges. Poul spoke to the challenges of integrating robotics in a hospital environment. Poul’s first piece of advice: don’t rush the planning stage. He went on to explain that one of his first challenges was that by attempting to automate a task with robotics as quickly as possible, the hospital forgot to account for the effect automating one operation would have on tangential operations. It resulted in a lack of transparency between management and employees, which negated the value that the robotics solution should have added. There are many tasks within an organization that could theoretically use robotics, but it is important to realize that these tasks don’t live in isolation; organizational operations exist in an ecosystem, and touching one operation without considering the effect on connected operations can lead to disruption. Poul added that because the organization didn’t value the importance of cooperation, it led to employees not understanding the future of their roles due to the sudden appearance of robots that were automating tasks they were previously responsible for, such as removing trash from rooms. The lack of transparency caused employees to feel undervalued in their positions, and it even led to an employee vandalizing one of the charging stations. Poul admitted that the underestimation of how important people are was a major fault in early strategies. By revisiting the problem in a slower, more thought-out manner, Poul stated that he was able to ease the confusion by recognizing the people within the ecosystem that would be affected directly – and indirectly – by a robotics solution. The new approach also allowed employees to be educated about how new technology would act as a tool, so that employees could focus more of their time on value-added activities.

While Poul’s title of CRO may not be a widely recognized one – or a well-defined one, for that matter – the lessons he presented are still valuable for anybody in a similar position of responsibility. It may be a stretch at this point to say that the CRO is the new CIO, but that doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t consider the importance of having a person or group responsible for making sure that robotics deployments across an organization are furthering an enterprise’s goals.

by Kyle Landry, Analyst, Lux Research