Automation can accelerate your business growth by maximising your productivity and improving your effectiveness. However, an automated process is only effective if it is worthwhile automating. A terrible process automated is just a terrible process that runs more quickly.
In this article, I will take you through the things to look out for to determine whether a process is the right choice for automating, or whether you should pass on it.
The first thing to look out for when deciding whether to automate a process is how complex or simple the process is. If a process is, straightforward and quick to carry out, automating it will take a lot of effort to set up and add complexity, then avoid it.
Next, think about how often the process takes place.
Is it needed regularly?
Does it only happen once a year?
Is it only used now and then?
If you don’t use the process very often, then is it worth the investment in creating an automated process?
If it takes years to get a return on that investment, perhaps you should think about putting your money, and time, into a different process, that will give higher returns.
You want to find tasks that are repetitive and frequent, and then you will see the benefit of automation immediately and over and over again.
So, if your process isn’t too simple, and used regularly, then now we need to consider whether the process changes. Is it different every time, like a craftsman shaping a piece of driftwood, or is it the same every time, like sending an email to a new sign-up?
Don’t worry if your process changes a little, but with a clear set of defined criteria. For example, take making a cup of tea.
The general process of:
- tea bag (or loose-leaf) into a mug, cup, or pot
- add hot water and brew for some time
- remove the tea from water
- add milk, lemon and or sugar.
The process of making tea is reasonably standard, but there are some options. Some people take sugar, some sweetener, and some without. Some have milk, some lemon, and some neither. Different types of tea require a pot or can go straight into the mug or cup. Different types of tea also may require different brewing times.
So, the process is changeable, but the changes are based on the inputs, and the inputs are near enough a closed set of options. It would, therefore, be possible to create a process that could be automated based on the inputs to the make a cup of tea process.
If your process is always the same, or it changes within defined boundaries based on logic, then it is a good candidate for automation.
The final barrier to the automation of a process is if it incorporates a qualitative decision. Software relies on being able to use logic to decide, based on a set of inputs, the required output. If the inputs are the same, then the output would be the same.
However, if the decision is an individual judgement, for example, how good is a new piece of art, then you will not get a great solution from automation.
Other examples may include designing a website or translating a document (automatic translators exist, but often miss subtle language issues like sarcasm, idioms, slang).
If the task doesn’t require human discretion, then you are still on track for automating that process.
The AI Caveat
The last two decisions, whether to automate a process, were related to how changeable and qualitative the procedures are. However, the advance of artificial intelligence and machine learning means that these may only be temporary setbacks.
Machines can learn from past data, and make extrapolations to current decisions, and can, therefore, make the same choice that a human might when encountering a changeable process.
Indeed the process may be fixed, based on its inputs. However, the data points are so vast in number, that as a human decision-maker, we aren’t even aware of them. Although, subconsciously, we utilise them.
The same is valid for value judgements or creativity. Software exists that writes new music and creates original artwork. The subjective is no longer exclusive to the human world.
These technologies aren’t viable or cost-effective across all disciplines, but eventually, even more, processes will be possible to automate.
So, look out for tasks to automate that aren’t too simple, frequently occur, don’t change too much, and aren’t qualitative. Then through their automation, you can save time and focus on what matters in your business.
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