Thriving Through Dis-Automation, Part II

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 06-14-2005 Print Email

Opinion: Ziff Davis Internet's Jeff Angus writes that it's possible to restructure existing organizations to make processes more efficient by balancing what tasks automated systems handle and which are a human's responsibility.

In my last column, I was telling you about Savage Beastand the Westergren/Glaser model.

The model approaches automation issues by establishing what mix of automation and manual work will product the greatest efficiency not on automating everything one might be capable of automating.

It parses lists of functions the way you'd do it with a group of human employees - doling out tasks based on competencies and effectiveness.

Those tasks IT does best should be assigned to it, and only those tasks.

When you get down to the processes that either technology or humans could handle equally well, the idea is to balance quality against cost.

As I've explained before, most projects over-automate because the people in charge of the projects tend to be technologists.

As such, they view automation as a virtue in itself, and tend to prefer the work (and sometimes the company) of machines to that of humans.

A secondary but frequent reason is that the finance types who tend to run American organizations are still in the thrall of the de-staffing fad, the mediocre manager's simplistic choice to increase returns.

Competitive Advantage

You should play around with the Savage Beast model if you're in an organization where mediocrity isn't good enough.

There are giant potential advances in effectiveness to reap by tuning your mix of technology and human work.

And because the unchecked self-preservative tendencies of most people within organizations results in a remarkably consistent pursuit of mediocrity - it's an advantage your competitors are unlikely to match any time soon.

How do you transfer their model to your own line of work? How do you figure out a better way to design processes to balance most efficiently between human and machine?

If automation is a faith in pure technology without people and Luddism is a faith in pure human effort without technology, what I'm urging you to aim for is something I call rationalization.

The Savage Beast model is an analogue to how you should think about basic design of your own staffing and projects.

Rationalization means serving customer needs or wants through human/technology partnerships that are designed to customer and business goals instead of just eructating the same technology everyone else is.

There are several paths to breaking through "the way things are done" to balance your processes more effectively, and the best will differ according to your organizational strengths and weaknesses.

I'll tell you one that works well in many cases, especially if finance has much of a rôle: Zero-Based Automation (ZBA).

In a ZBA exercise, you don't start by taking into account where you are.

You ask the naïve question: "What processes would we automate if we were starting from scratch?"

You walk through each, keeping track of where you probably automated something more effectively done by humans.

(It's possible you've got humans doing work you should have automated for greater effectiveness, and you should note these, too, though I've found in my practice that they're fairly rare).

As with the familiar tool zero-based budgeting (ZBB), the analysis doesn't require an examination of everything in place that doesn't match best practices or current needs you'll dump.

It's an exercise in perspective, because even if you don't do anything about the shortfall, you've recognized it publicly and increased the gravitational field to tweak or replace all or part of the process.

Next Page: ZBA exercises.



 

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