Automate All the Things!

Or not. I prefer not. 

As John Seddon states in his most recent book, it’s far more useful to fully understand customers’ needs, through e.g. simple physical means, like pin-boards, T-cards and spreadsheets, before considering any automation.

And even then, automation has at least two fundamental flaws:

Inability to Cater to Variation in Demand

Automation and automated systems, presently and for the foreseeable future, cannot encompass variety in demand. As we’ve come to relate to the Little Britain meme “ Computer says no”. Customer demand inherently has variation. Thus, automation leads to a poorer customer experience, as many customer needs are handled poorly, or not at all. I cite the British Gas website and customer experience as a particularly egregious example.


Let’s also look at the bigger picture of social cohesion, of which people having jobs is a part. Jobs give people meaning, status, and something to do. As well as greasing the wheels of commerce – employed people have disposable income which contributes to companies’ revenues.

The idea of Basic Income is all very fine (I’m a fan) but that concept has some major wrinkles to iron out before it becomes a shoe-in.

In the meantime, how about we try to create businesses – and other organisations – that provide meaningful employment to more people, rather than fewer? Will that negatively impact profit margins? I doubt. And there’s always Deming’s First Theorem in any case.

More and more often, the Software Industry is being called upon to live up to its fine moral pronouncements. Automation is an item in the negative column on that balance sheet.

– Bob

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