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To automate or not to automate, that is the question.

To automate or not to automate, that is the question.

After what has been a rather bleak week filled with rain for few consecutive days, the sun was finally out in Singapore, complete with cool breeze to accompany it. Perfect setup for a casual gathering.

It was a lunch between friends with broad conversation topics, but one topic was particularly intriguing to dig deeper on, related to what is often observed in professional lives. It was a question about optimisation, in particular about the need for automation - or the lack of it.

We introduced a software platform for our team, with a rather hefty subscription plan, yet I haven’t seen any improvement on productivity.”, said the CFO of a MNC in the construction industry.

With the same amount of money invested into the platform, the perception is that it can be used to pay someone - or a full team - to do the job and obtain the same result.

“I can just pay someone to do it.”

There is a harsher variation of it where you replace ‘someone’ with “some interns”, or “some people in that country“ - harsh but real, so now what?

What does automation mean to you?

Let’s take one step back and ask about what kind of automation came to your mind when you began to read this blog article.

  • If you’re a Digital Marketing Manager, you might be thinking about lead generation.
  • If you’re an Accountant, you might be thinking about that integration between Xero and the business bank account.
  • If you’re a Business Owner, automatic invoicing to your customers might be handy.
  • If you’re a Software Engineer, a well implemented CI/CD pipeline that includes automatic validation of your code might come to mind.
  • … and the list goes on.

With all due respect, the positive impact of an automation versus the cost of implementing it will not be the same for the various context mentioned above. Even within the same context - let’s take automatic invoicing for an example - a startup with 10 clients versus a SME with 100 clients versus MNC with 1000 clients will reap a different benefit from automation.

How should one decide?

Regardless of the context, you can ask similar set of questions. Below you can find the questions represented as two sides of the coin.

Automation pros:

  • What is the frequency of the tasks that could be automated?
  • Do we need to keep hiring people to replace those who quit because they don’t want to do repetitive tasks?
  • Hence, what is the hidden cost of not doing an automation?
  • Is it just the direct cost of the people that is doing the manual job, or does it go beyond that?
  • What is the cost of putting in place automation?
  • What are the alternatives that are suitable for our context?
  • Do we have the right people to properly design and implement it?
  • Or do I need to engage external parties?

Automation cons:

  • Is there an opportunity cost in implementing automation?
  • Will I lose a business opportunity if I spend the effort putting it in place?
  • Do we need to scale the things that we automate, or will it only impact a limited scope?
  • Are the tasks currently being done manually really needed, can they be eliminated or done differently?
  • If the initiatiave failed to deliver the expected result, will it still motivate our team?

Sparring partners - illustration by LipikStockMedia on Freepik

Choose a sparring partner

Whether you decide to handle everything in-house or work with an external party as your trusted advisor, aim to have a sparring partner in the process. Especially if you are an experienced business leader and your gut tells you that automation is an important topic to investigate at the stage where your business is right now. The right sparring partner will help you to take the right decision and follow-through with the necessary whatever that decision be.

This is also true if you are a team leader in that junction where you are considering to put in place an automation for your team. Considering the two choices between bringing the productivity and quality of your team to the next level; or if the tasks at hand are just temporary and hence simply pushing it through for a little bit longer will do.

At the end of the day, consider your options, take action and follow-through. You got this.

Author - Kiky Shannon


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