If something is predictable and repeatable, it can be computerized.
If it can be computerized, it can be automated.
If it can be automated, should it be automated?
Automation can result in improved efficiency and effectiveness, eliminate human error, lower operational costs, and free up people from performing mundane or tedious tasks to focus efforts on strategic or complex thinking.
But is your business – ready to be automated? How about the things that you do – can your job be automated?
Automate the obvious
IT is a fairly easy target for automation. IT usually has well-defined processes and procedures that are obvious targets for automation, such as platform builds, approval tasks, and password resets.
Obvious stuff. But automation within IT has evolved beyond the “obvious stuff”.
In a recent Forbes magazine article, Jason Bloomberg featured Automic, an IT automation and service orchestration software company. Automic, recently acquired by CA Technologies1, has evolved IT automation to another level. Automic offers a suite of business automation products that integrate with numerous applications, then orchestrates the interactions providing automation of business processes as well as IT operations processes. Examples of this ‘next level’ automation innovation include capabilities like zero-downtime, ‘hot’ upgrades of legacy applications without the need for a maintenance window, and automated fixes to problems in a production environment. Automic has also solved a current challenge of many DevOps adoptions by automating release management in such a way that takes into account the complexities of legacy-laden enterprise production environments.2
But why just limit automation to just IT?
Automation should not be limited to just IT
Should business be automated? Can business be considered a repeatable
A number of consumer-facing business processes are already automated, such as business processes like “order to cash” and “order to ship”.
But what about other business processes? Can business be a repeatable process?
Business as a repeatable process is critical. Any successful business has a certain way of doing things, and defines processes to accomplish goals to be able to reliably solve the problems with consistent results. Imagine going to Starbucks and ordering the same drink every day, and it not tasting the same. This is the problem every business is trying to avoid.3
The advancing capabilities of Robotic Process Automation, Machine Learning, and Cognitive Technology is beginning to get a foothold within business processes. Common business processes, such as payroll, order entry, and accounts payable provide opportunities to better understand the opportunities and challenges from business process automation.4
The great divides of automation?
But there are challenges that must be addressed with an adoption of automation.
Errors in Judgement – In 2016, Facebook dismissed human editors that were introducing political bias into its Trending news list, and replaced them with algorithms. Later than year, The Washington Post reported that Facebook did achieve its goal – these algorithms did remove bias from the Trending news. But it also introduced a problem – fake news. The algorithms couldn’t tell a real news story from a hoax.5
Knowledge Erosion – As tasks are transferred from people to machines, it introduces another challenge – the erosion of knowledge. “It applies in a wide variety of contexts, from the operators of nuclear power stations to the crews of cruise ships, from the simple fact that we can no longer remember phone numbers because we have them all stored in our mobile phones, to the way we now struggle with mental arithmetic because we are surrounded by electronic calculators,” says Tim Hartford in an excerpt from his new book, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. “The better the automatic systems, the more out-of-practice human operators will be, and the more extreme the situations they will have to face.”6
Situational Awareness – Automation is becoming so common that vendors are selling software with pre-existing automation scripts in them that can be customized. But that automation needs to be set up for the way humans interact with an automated system. For example, when software begins to automate physical tasks like driving a car. Driving a car has a relatively predictable set of circumstances that will eventually be automated.7 But most people need anywhere from 10 seconds to a full two minutes to take control of a car that they haven’t been driving – people can’t just go from not paying attention to suddenly driving a car. It’s as if someone blindfolded you, drove you somewhere, then suddenly took of the blindfold and made you drive. Would you be able to respond quickly enough, in those few seconds following the removal of the blindfold, if a school bus were to cut in front of you?8
Before your company undertakes an automation initiative, here are some considerations:
- Be sure that you completely understand what you’re trying to automate. If you don’t completely understand it, you’re not ready to automate. Well-defined, effective processes that enable value delivery are critical for successful automation. If processes (business OR IT) are not well-defined, you’re not ready to automate.
- Don’t be in a rush to automate – The use technology applied incorrectly or improperly will allow organizations to “screw-up” at the speed of light. Automate in small pieces – follow an iterative approach to automation.
- How will the workforce impacted by automation be repurposed? Any success your organization may have with automation will be built on the shoulders of people who defined and perfected processes. Their good works shouldn’t be punished through job loss. There is valuable institutional knowledge that can be put to good use elsewhere in your organization. Provide training and new opportunities for those impacted by automation; otherwise, automation will be feared and resisted.
- Senior management support is critical, because automation impacts jobs and tasks formerly done by people. Investments in tools, training, and new skillsets will be required. Senior management must understand and be prepared to deal with the impact of automation within the organization.
1 “CA Technologies Completes Acquisition of Automic.” CA Technologies. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. January 19,
2 Bloomberg, Jason. “Automic Drives DevOps And Digital Transformation With Automation.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2016/11/08/automic-drives-devops-and-digital-transformation-with-automation/#2007892440d0
3 Lapinski, Trent. “What is Business Automation?”, https://hackernoon.com/what-is-business-automation retrieved 3/8/2017
4 Justice, Cliff. “Cognitive Automation and the Disruption of Business Services.” CIO Review. N.p., n.d. Web http://robotics.cioreview.com/cxoinsight/cognitive-automation-and-the-disruption-of-business-services
5 Kinni, Theodore. “Beware the Paradox of Automation.” MIT Sloan Management Review. N.p., 20 Oct. 2016. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/beware-the-paradox-of-automation/ 10/20/2016 retrieved 3/24/2017
6 Chiappella, Wolf. “Messy.” Tim Harford. N.p., 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017 http://timharford.com/books/messy/
7 Lapinski, Trent. “What is Business Automation?”, https://hackernoon.com/what-is-business-automation retrieved 3/8/2017
8 Wagner, Dave. “Self-driving Cars and IT’s Automation Problem”, http://www.computereconomics.com/article.dfm?id=2335, retrieved 3/24/2017
About the Author:
Institute Fellow Alumni
Doug Tedder is the principal of Tedder Consulting LLC. Doug is an accomplished and recognized leader who is equally adept in interactions from senior leadership to day-to-day practitioners. His attention to detail, industry knowledge, emotional intelligence, and the ability to “see the big picture” and make it actionable has resulted in a track record of success in helping IT organizations transform into business partners in value delivery.
Doug holds numerous industry certifications in disciplines ranging from ITIL, COBIT, Lean IT, and Organizational Change Management. An active volunteer within the IT Service Management community, Doug is a frequent speaker and contributor at local industry user group meetings, webinars, and national conventions. Doug is a member, former president, and current board member for itSMF USA as well a member of HDI.