The Automation Confirmation: We Are Only Human After All


By Carrie Salters
Freer Consulting Co.

As the world becomes more automated in everything we do, considering smartphones, televisions, cars and airplanes, we take so much for granted. Remember the days of having to read the TV guide that came in the newspaper to find out what was going to be on television that week? Then you would have to remember that you wanted to watch Gilligan’s Island at 7pm on Tuesday, the Dukes of Hazzard at 7:30pm on Wednesday, and Voltron on Saturday morning at 8am. Before automation of these tasks, remembering to do these things required a decent amount of human oversight.

Now televisions allow us to watch virtually any program at any time on demand.

And if our TV won’t let us watch a show any time, it will remind us when the show is on. Our television can remind our smart phone to remind us when it’s on. Our television can even remind our watch to remind us when it’s on.

Although these tasks have been automated, we still have to manage them by choosing how to respond:

  • We can stop everything we’re doing and watch the program.
  • We can record the program and watch it at a later time.
  • We can ignore the program and decide not to watch it at all.

And this is just our television. Automation has expanded to work tasks such as deadlines and meetings; home life such as  buying milk or getting your child to basketball or dance lessons; and social life such as trivia night or a concert.

Take work tasks, for example. More and more companies trying to automate their safety, quality and environmental management system related tasks in an attempt to increase efficiency, reduce workforce and keep up with technology. Companies are moving away from spreadsheets, Access databases and old MS-DOS based programs partly because these systems rely heavily on a person collecting and entering the data, ensuring formula accuracy and that pivot tables are evaluating the right information.

As companies move away from these antiquated systems, they are relying more on the vast array of software applications to assist them with tasks. May of these applications are based on workflows, allowing the user to create a task with a due date. If the task isn’t completed by the due date it will send you a daily, weekly, etc. reminder until it is marked as complete.

Again, these tasks have to be managed by choosing how to respond:

  • We can complete the task.
  • We can set a new due date for the task and complete it at a later time.
  • We can ignore the task and decide not to complete it at all.

If the task is complete, the manager may still run a report showing completed tasks in order to show documented evidence that the task was complete to remain in compliance with an international and/or industry standard. If the task is deferred, the manager may want to see a report showing the reason why. If the task is ignored, the manager may want to run a report showing tasks past due and meet with the employee to discuss a path forward to complete them.

The point is no matter how much we as individuals or companies try to automate, these programs still require some human oversight.

In the case of the smart television, if it isn’t properly managed, the digital video recording device might get full and stop recording your favorite shows. If the subscription isn’t managed, the service provider may start increasing your rates without your knowledge. Despite the convenience of automation, we still have to remember to check the percent status of the DVR and the status of the service contract.

In the case of work tasking software, if it isn’t properly managed, tasks might become increasingly overdue, the employee overwhelmed, and the manager irritated. The employee might require management’s support prioritizing tasks. Maybe the manager needs to be better at setting more realistic due dates. Maybe the task has been started but is taking longer than initially thought to implement. To truly realize the benefits of work tasking software, we must remember to routinely check the status of our tasks and update them as needed, without a task telling us to check our tasks.

In the end, we humans still have to set up, manage, and complete these automated tasks. Automation can only gain efficiency to a certain point without requiring human intervention. And we can only get so much done in a day while balancing time to fit in our home and social life tasks as well.

Before starting down the road to automation, be sure that there will be a payoff in efficiency. There is only so much time in a day and we are only human after all.