[Originally published 2/1/14 as “Is Automation The Answer?”]
I am sometimes questioned about automation and its role in improving efficiencies. To be honest, I don’t think automation is “the answer” though it is an answer. The following case study demonstrates my reasoning regarding the role of automation in improving efficiencies:
Working with a client, we defined and documented their current state production process rate and capacity. By automating their production process we determined they could realize a 20% increase in production rate and capacity.
We did not implement the automation
By changing the process without automation we were able to increase their production rate and capacity by 60%!
Once the new production process was implemented, we found we could increase production rate and capacity a total of 220% from the original state by implementing the “capital investment” automation initially identified.
Brown and Hellerstein1 take a position regarding automation that is interesting given that it is in IT operations, stating in the Abstract “We take the heretical position that automation does not necessarily reduce the cost of operations”, following up with a claim in the Introduction that “… automation can increase cost if it is applied without a holistic view of the processes used to deliver IT services.” When considering automation in the Abstract, they further state:
Our analysis provides a quantitative framework that captures several traditional rules of thumb: that automating a process is beneficial if the process has a sufficiently long lifetime, if it is relatively easy to automate (i.e., can readily be generalized from a manual process), and if there is a large cost reduction (or leverage) provided by each automated execution of the process compared to a manual invocation.
The moral of the story: Automation is not necessarily beneficial, and automating a bad process does not make it a good process, only an automated bad process. As stated by Bill Gates2 (Quote 34):
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
First look at the process itself, then consider automation to see if the gains warrant the cost.
You will save time and money.
1Brown, A., and Hellerstein, J. Reducing the Cost of IT Operations—Is Automation Always the Answer? IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Hawthorne, New York. Retrieved from: https://www.usenix.org/legacy/event/hotos05/final_papers_backup/brown/brown_html/