Understand Before Automating

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Automation has been all the hype for over a decade now. Millions of jobs are predicted to be automated away thanks to advanced robotics, more capable software, and more computing power becoming available every minute. Automation, though, is not a panacea. Before choosing to automate any task, significant time and effort should be applied towards figuring out why automation makes sense. If the job can be eliminated, instead of automated, that is a better alternative. If the job would benefit from the flexibility and intellect of a human being, automation might not be a good idea. Like any tool applied incorrectly, there are downsides to automating.

  • Automating a bad process does not lead to cost savings or gains in efficiency
  • Automation requires continuous investment in upgrades and maintenance
  • Robots and software are not as flexible as people
  • Automated tools do not have ideas- they can only do exactly what they are told to do
  • Support for existing tech tools wanes as new technologies are invented
  • As APIs break, so too do the processes connected to them

At the start of the new year, for example, the automated online paperwork for completing tax documents broke in Oregon because a piece of the tax code had changed. The whole system broke because of a change somewhere else. Not ideal in the slightest.

Before automating anything, it’s worth spending time thinking it through using the USA principle. The USA principle of automation is to;

  • Understand
  • Simplify
  • Automate

Understanding a process in depth is required to not break things along the way. Simplifying is the act of removing all unnecessary steps from a process. Only after doing those two steps does it make sense to think about automating.

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