Friday, April 26, 2013

The downside of automation

It seems that everyone reveres automation as the holy grail.  You can automate your marketing, your email campaigns, and even your coffee maker.  Automation is great because it ensures consistency and frees up valuable man hours to do more mentally intense tasks.  But, automation isn't always good.

Automation reduces personalization and requires extensive maintenance to keep up with variable change.

Personalization is important because it not only adds a layer of attention, but re-enforces social ties to your customers.  I'm not talking about the kind of personalization that your bulk email service provider offers, Hi [First Name].  I'm talking about true personalization that would take terabytes of data to be able to program into an automated system.  The digital equivalent of my coffee pot being able to recognize that I'm dragging more than normal this morning and responding by making me stronger coffee.

I'm not saying that personalization of this level is impossible to program, just that it isn't practical for most applications.  You could easily blend a little automation with a likable account rep and still benefit from automated processes while paying personalized attention to your customers.

Maintenance is another concern when looking to automate anything.  As humans, when we learn something new, we automatically integrate it into our process.  For a computer program, a change in the outside world may require a minor adjustment or a complete rewrite of the original automation.  

My personal belief is that if you can't afford to replace something, it's outside of your reach.  If you can't afford to replace your automation (based on the time and monetary investment), you're not getting enough out of having the process automated.  

Start manually and document each step and decision point of your process.  Just having the process scripted on paper should increase the consistency of your results and will help you determine if automating it is worth the effort.

I know a guy who took a 4 month process and made it a 1 day process through automation.  He didn't completely remove the human element from the decision points, just automated the basic steps (reason why it still takes a whole day).  The program would take weeks to re-write or make a major update, but that's still a huge savings over doing it manually, even once.

Is your automation working for you or just creating extra work?