Does automating every process make sense?

Jacek Szafader Jacek Szafader April 24, 2024

Recently, a colleague told me about a bizarre automation implemented by a company where he rents a virtual office. Yes, these are turbulent times with inflation, price updates, and changing conditions… but is this really how automation should be done?

The company probably wanted to update contracts en masse and make life easier for itself by automatically terminating the current agreements and signing new ones. They terminated the contracts and included a link to a contract generator with new terms in an email. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pre-filled form but a blank one, like on a website for a potential new client. Moreover, it required many sensitive details, such as the representative’s PESEL number, which would set off alarm bells for any rational person. My colleague filled out the form to resolve the matter quickly. It wasn’t significant enough to start fixing the world and arguing with the company about such a poorly prepared workflow. Unfortunately! The form was uncommunicative. For instance, it asked for the street name, which my colleague provided, and later received an email stating that the form was incorrectly filled out and the request could not be processed because it lacked the full address, including the city and postal code. After quickly reviewing the emails, he found that there was indeed an entire instruction on how to fill out the simple form. Somewhere in small print, in another link, there was information explaining what the specific fields meant and how to fill them out

In the end, the process, which was supposed to be quick and automated, prompted my colleague to look for a company with a better offer. The automation, intended to simplify the process, became as complicated as switching to a new provider. The company, which aimed to automate the process for its benefit, ultimately failed to retain the customer. The effort required for this update equaled the effort needed to find a new offer.

So, what went wrong with this automation? What did the company "gain" by being so poorly prepared?

  • Automation only for its own benefit, not for all participants in the process
  • Necessity of preparing a complicated instruction and believing that people would read it
  • Need to verify each submission
  • Potentially discouraged customers
  • Damage to the company’s image

It can be said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as surely no one here had good intentions. Maybe, when we lack the strength, resources, and knowledge for proper automation, it’s better not to undertake it at all? How much more honest would it be to send customers a new contract and say, fill out your details and sign it if we can’t prepare one that is properly executed.

So, how should one approach good automation, and what questions should be asked before starting the implementation process?

  • Who is the participant, and is every participant benefiting from it?
  • Is it not an overkill for a simple task?
  • Is the process clear and not requiring additional explanations?
  • If there are conditions, are the branches of these conditions obvious and leaving no room for interpretative doubts?
  • Does the automation cover the entire process or just a part of it, and does this strategy hold up in terms of clarity and the benefits obtained?
  • What is the cost of this automation, and if done well and fully, is it not higher than manual work?
  • If data is involved, is it protected and does everyone feel safe providing it to the system?

Automation can be a very valuable tool, but it requires careful planning, consideration of user needs, and monitoring of its effects. Before deciding on automation, it is worth thoroughly analyzing all the pros and cons to avoid potential problems and achieve the desired results.

You can find an example of automation prepared by Atteli here.