June 5th 2013

If you know me, you'll know automation is something I've loved for a long time. Why do something manually if the computer can do it? That said, a lot of people do a lot of things that a computer could do instead. Why? There are two main reasons:

1. They don't know any better. David Peterson once told me a story about his 3 year-old who was making himself a bath by filling up a cup from the sink, walking over to the bath and pouring it in. Will it work? Yes. Is it the best way to make yourself a bath? Not at all.

2. They don't want to make any compromises. There's a tiny element of human intervention - something that can't be easily automated that they don't want to give up. It might be a manual adjustment (such as adjusting a number), or it might be entirely cosmetic (they want a report to look a certain way).

An article on automation that I read yesterday (Human Intervention as a Competitive Advantage) has this to say: "When everyone else is trying to automate everything, using a little human intervention can be a competitive advantage."

Inverting this logic, I would say that if a manual process is not giving your company a competitive advantage, then automate it or stop doing it.

Of course, just because something isn't giving you a competitive advantage doesn't mean your customers won't notice if you automate it. Whenever you make a change you'll find some people who complain, threaten to switch to a competitor or take to social media. That's only natural. No-one likes change. The Netflix Facebook page gets comments daily from customers saying they're going to cancel their subscription. What's revealing about that is that only an engaged customer would bother to post on Facebook instead of actually cancelling. There's obviously something about the service they like if they haven't cancelled it already.

So what about processes that give your company a competitive advantage? Aren't there lots? Perhaps. But remember, it's not a question of whether the process gives your company a competitive advantage, it's a question of whether the process done manually gives your company a competitive advantage. If the process can be automated without losing your competitive advantage, automate it already!

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