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IT Projects & Automation: The Human Element

Information technology projects are essentially business process re-engineering projects. Too many decision-makers expect that:

1. The business problem is an automation problem.

2. The automation solution will completely replace the manual process

Usually, neither case is completely true. Sometimes not even remotely true.

If you think of an IT system as another employee, one with very specific talents, limitations and costs, you might set better expectations for your IT projects and realize better return on the investments. For example, certain people are not good with customers, so you wouldn’t put them in a difficult customer service position, because they would ruin your customer relations. When you do find a person who is qualified, you still make adjustments to their role based on their strengths. The same is true when automating.

For example, you want to automate the import of invoices. Currently, field salespeople maintain Excel workbooks, which they email to your accounting department for manual data entry. You are, in effect, replacing the person who does the manual entry. Don’t make the mistake that that person is just transferring data from one place to another. The REAL business process demands that the employee make many decisions during data entry. Over time, their position has become the vital – albeit informal – quality control point for order processing. That can be the very hardest automation to accomplish well. It will demand that either the import process can replicate the smart data entry person OR that the data coming into the process becomes more formalized with validation and error-checking done in the field.

The point is, if you try to take the human completely out of the process, it will most likely fail and negatively affect your whole company. Instead, focus on using automation to increase the efficiency of the data entry person’s process. Expect to import 60% or so of the Excel data and send the rest as exceptions to the human for real attention.

This approach helps in many ways:

1. Staff and project expectations and goals are attainable

2. The project can be implemented more quickly because the more relaxed requirements allow the automation to be added to, instead of replacing, the current process.

3. The automation process can be improved and updated without disrupting the whole process.

4. As new things come up, new products, new business lines, new salespeople, etc., the process will be resilient, allowing the human to catch the new issues without creating a log jam.

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