To Automate or not to Automate, that is the Question. Whether 'tis better to suffer the hum-drum repetitiveness of routine processes or create a set-it-and-forget it approach. OK, so I'm no Will Shakespeare, and don't worry I won't try to continue in iambic pentameter. But I do want to raise the question when should I automate and when should things remain hands-on. 

Like so many things we discuss, there is never really a black-and-white answer. It's more of "well, it depends". But here is some food for thought.

Is your business process always consistent?

This is the first and probably most important question, analogous to when you call tech support and they ask you if the device is turned on. If your business process isn't consistent then it makes it a lot harder to define the different things that should happen in the various automated scenarios. That's not to say that you can't or shouldn't automate a process that varies, it's just a matter of, can you identify all the different variables, and what should happen in each instance. Do you have the expertise to program a particularly complex set of business rules and maintain those rules as things go forward.

Can you clearly define the rules for Automation?

If you've made it past the first question and are still answering in the affirmative, odds are you have already made some kind of map of the rules that the automation to have, even if it's just a mental map, you have some idea how it should work and under what conditions. I highly recommend diagramming this out. That way you'll have a visual representation which is a lot easier to understand weeks, months, or even years later if you have to go back and fix something or explain it to someone else. 

I would also run that diagram by 2 people; someone who understands your current process and someone that doesn't. This gives you a perspective from both sides. They may come up with ideas on how to improve it or think of something you didn't. You want someone who will ask the "Why?", and try to poke holes in everything, only then will it be good. 

Documenting  the business rules also helps avoid extra work later or even rework. Fixing a problem before it's programmed is a heck of a lot easier than fixing it once it's already in place.

Will things get missed if you automate?

The best thing about automation is also the worst thing, once it's automated it is one of those things that are out of sight and out of mind. It's easy to forget they're going on. What if something breaks, or is doing the wrong thing. Will you catch it? or will things get dropped. The best kinds of automatons are those that you will know when they stop working. Otherwise you need to have someone keep an eye on things. You'd be surprised when you start automating a large number of things how they will start to impact others in unexpected ways. Even despite careful planning and forethought. It's inevitable. You just can't predict everything.

Do you have the people-power to maintain the manual function?

 xkcd.com

xkcd.com

Often the biggest impetus for automation is to make your human resources go further. When you're a small company and need to scale, automation is often the key to success and you don't have any choice but to automate. Marketing Automation is a perfect example of this. The key is to decide what things do you really need vs what you want to automate. Tackle the needs first, then the wants. There may be some benefit to keeping some things manual. Automated support loses that personal touch that people love about small companies. Marketing without the personalization feels like you're just blasting at the masses. Think about it from both sides, yes this will free up time, but are there downsides?

Is there a downside to Automation?

Are you saving seconds or minutes or even hours? Are you simplifying things so that there are fewer items users have to remember to do? There are always pros and cons. I've touched on some already in the previous questions. Automation is a delicate balance. If you automate too much, things start to get messy and confusing so you better have good documentation of what happens when so certain automated processes don't step on the toes of others. I've helped customers automate nearly every little thing, to the point where it becomes so hard to trouble shoot when an error arises.

Salesforce makes it very easy to automate many things. So before asking yourself "Can I?", start with "Should I?" Look really hard at everything. Make sure it's necessary before just automating it away. 

"Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else's time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash."

- Timothy Ferris (The 4-Hour Workweek)

 

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