May 30, 2022
The Future COO
The way we work, where we work and how we work are all transforming. Businesses across sectors need to adapt to these changes to stay in the game. But who can ensure organisations and individuals play a positive role in this transformation? That is the role of the future COO.
The role of the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is rather tricky to define. The definition can depend from company to company. Different industries also add unique features and functionalities to the role.
A good way to characterise is by viewing the role of the COO as a mix of strategy and execution. COOs are like the chief surgeon in an operating room. They make sure both the strategy and execution lead to good results.
It’s not a big surprise to hear the role of COO has changed and shifted in the past few decades. There has even been a lot of debate on the importance of having a COO. The Washington Post reported on data suggesting companies abandoned COOs in the mid-2010s. But they have seen a resurgence. More companies understand the value a good COO can provide to a company.
The role of the COO is to monitor and understand the business environment. They should:
- Be in charge of new technologies
- Communicate with the HR department
- Understand the costs of adaptation
- Stay on top of legal changes
In the modern age, the role of COOs is further influenced by digital technologies, such as automation and artificial intelligence. At Contractbook, we’ve written about how the future of work is changing. The change is not only due to digital advances but also because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Both of these play a part in what the future COO needs to do. They must be at the heart of automation and AI implementation.
Why automating business operations is the key
One of the most crucial parts of the future COO’s work will be automation. Future COOs themselves are looking to take this transformative role, according to a BNP Paribas Securities Services report.
Automation can help optimise workflow and boost business processes. Workflow automation provides organisations with many benefits. These include:
- Saving time - Tasks are done instantly and without the need for manual labour.
- Saving money - When you are saving time, you are also saving money. You can spend less on resources. You can focus the existing resources on the most profitable areas.
- Enhancing experiences - Workflow automation can improve the experience for both your employees and customers. Transactions happen faster and smoother. You’re also reducing repetitive processes, creating a more meaningful workplace for employees.
- Reducing errors - Automation can have a huge impact in reducing errors, especially when dealing with large quantities of data entry.
- Generating data - Not only is automation great at analysing and using data, but it can also help you generate more. Digitising workflows can provide you with a wealth of data to use for those strategic decisions.
Automation is inevitable and strategically important for businesses. The future COO will be at the heart of making it work.
How can a future COO optimize workflows for the future of work?
Automation and the pandemic have both changed the workplace. The pandemic pushed many away from the office. Although most restrictions have been removed or reduced, a growing number of organisations are continuing with remote work. A PwC survey showed 78% of CEOs believe remote collaboration is here to stay. Throw into the mix artificial intelligence and you have a structurally different workplace.
It falls on the shoulders of the COO to take care of the strategic execution. They need to ensure automation and remote work optimise workflow, not hinder it. How can they do this?
1. By building the best digital operational framework
The future COO needs technology authority. What this means is focusing on finding the right technologies to boost growth. Technology adaptation can be tricky. The COO’s role is to execute the right strategy and ensure technology works for the company.
Operational data should be used to fuel efficiency and accuracy. Data shouldn’t be a by-product. COOs must use data and analytics to anticipate problems down the line. An intelligent business doesn’t focus only on internal analysis. They also consider external insights.
Automation has the power to reinvent many organisational functions. The future COO has to ensure the implementation of automation strategies is a priority. The automation of business operations could see the company:
- Using AI-based contract platforms to reduce risk and increase compliance
- Automating the onboarding process and solving employee queries with chatbots
- Using AI to learn from customer behaviour
- Speeding up accounting processes with automated payroll processing
These are just a handful of examples of how business operations could be automated. The future COO has to find the technologies to support automation.
2. Prioritizing employee development and performance management
Automation will play a major role in any future business. But it’s more important than ever for the future COO to also recognise the importance of the human employee in all this. It’s easy to get too focused on technology and forget humans are part of the process. Employees need to have the skills to work with automation.
Furthermore, today’s skills might not be tomorrow’s skills. Companies have to continuously develop and train their employees. It’s much easier to have your employees pick up new skills to perform than to constantly recruit new talent.
The COO has to ensure that as digitalization happens, the employees are not left behind. Training and developing skills to meet the changing needs is a crucial part of making automation work.
3. Creating collaborative and innovative spaces
Innovation and collaboration are crucial for success. Improving communication between the different players in the organisation includes two aspects. You need to look at the department-to-department and human-to-human collaborations. Teams need the methods to communicate. But data and information should also flow from one department to another.
Access to information is the key. You want to use digital tools that make sharing, viewing and generating new information and data easier. Collaboration should be encouraged in physical spaces, with emphasis on policies like the open door policy. But the future COO should also look at digital spaces. These technologies can bring employees and divisions together, even when they don’t share a physical space.
The future COO is already here
The role of a COO hasn’t ever been an easy one to manage. There isn’t a standard definition to begin with. Technological advances are further changing the role’s meaning.
It’s the future COO who needs to embrace the role and its transformative power. It will be their job to evaluate and leverage the transformative potential of things like automation. And the future is already here. COOs need to be looking into automation and workflow optimization now to respond to tomorrow’s challenges.
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