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Automation, when to stop?

Automation is desirable most of the time at least when effort and costs are involved. Automation drives production costs lower, reduces repetitive tasks, maintains quality levels, and provides other benefits. IT (information technology) and computing in general is all about automation. We use computers and software to make things easier. That gives us more time for the more important things. Using technology we automate processes that we would otherwise have to do ourselves. To take this argument to the extreme; if there was enough technology available, one would be able to sit there and do nothing while some computer or robot (or anything else that might crop up in the future) do everything that needs to be done, take all the decisions and manage the outcomes.

While most organisations do not yet have that level of automation, the idea leads us to our main question, what is trivial, what is not? Up till what level shall we automate our processes? Till which point should we keep control? In some sectors such as in stock trading, the computers are already taking expensive decisions, trading millions of euros worth of stock in split seconds on behalf of human beings. Most organisations however still rely on human beings to take the decisions and manage the processes.

In general the more we automate, the less control we have, because infact we are effectively handing over that control to whoever is coding or configuring the automated process. So the more we automate, the more we need to monitor. So to answer the question of “when to stop” we can simply put it like this: the ability to automate should be limited by the ability to monitor.

A typical decision inside our organisations is to automate a laborious task such as customer records management from our word documents, excel sheets and even physical pieces of paper into an automated system that allows us to access that information in no time via a computer. The paper based information is easy to monitor, if its lying around you see it, if its disorganised you know it, if its missing you know you have to look for it. So if moving to a customer records management system means you are losing sight of your data then you shouldn’t go for it. If the customer records management system gives you the ability to monitor what is going in an out, gives you similar or better level of control, you’re definitely within your limits for automation.

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