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Stagnation or Automation?

Author: Gina Cohen

Within change management, a key stream is automation, reducing the manual nature of tasks and implementing more automated processes and systems to improve efficiency and consistency of processes and outputs.

One downside of automation is the loss of knowledge within a team.  If you have a very manual, slow, drawn out process with lots of spreadsheets, formulae, tables that need to be manually updated etc., then the person completing the task, has to know what they are doing or they will not get the required output. 

Once you automate a process, whether it is something small such as adding a macro to a spreadsheet, or overhauling a legacy system and implementing a new all-singing all-dancing interface with complex processes running in the background – it is very hard not to lose the knowledge surrounding the process.  It is great to be able to simply press a button and a process that used to take a day to run, now takes less than an hour, but do the users actually understand what the macro/ system / process is doing and more importantly do they have the knowledge to understand if the output is incomplete or inaccurate?

I recently consulted at a company who asked me to analyse existing macros on their spreadsheets. When I looked into them, some were written in 1998.  Had anyone ever questioned if the macro was correct, accurate, and still appropriate 2 decades later?  I doubt it.  The button was pressed and the output was gratefully received.

I also worked on the implementation of a new compensation accounting programme.  The legacy system was not fit for purpose anymore; it was outdated and had many additional manual add-ons to the system – but at least everyone in the team knew the accounting logic behind the system, and nuances of different employees and how each benefit needed to be accounted for.  It is very difficult to implement a new system, without losing some of the knowledge around the new automated process.  It is important for people to challenge and check the output of any new system before they accept it.  

So, do I think automation is wrong? No, I do not.

Do I think there are many benefits to automation? Of course I do, as long as it is part of a controlled change.  As part of any automation, clear documentation needs to be written, regular reviews of the system need to take place to ensure the processes are still valid, months and years later and that stringent checks need to be added to the process to ensure accurate and complete output.  

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