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Problems with Automation without feedback

It was a gloomy, soggy and chilly day. I went down to our pantry to get some coffee…My office is right next to the famed “Durham Bulls Athletic Park”. I was looking out the window and found the green grass on the outfield particularly green and shiny.

Then I noticed, despite the rain, the sprinklers were ON. I heard on the news that we are short of rainfall for the month, which means, come summer, restricted watering of lawns.

Anyway, the picture triggered off another thought i.e. Advantages & Disadvantages of Automation. The incident I just explained is a perfect example. By automating the watering of the outfield, the park maintenance team has done a good job of not only reducing the effort required but also ensured that it is done on a timely manner. However, what they forgot is to include a “Feedback” mechanism. This can be either automated or manually provided so that the sprinkler system is shutdown during the rains. If they have not built an automated feedback mechanism, then they should think of one. This could be either through a local news channel or national weather service, whatever is the easier way. Alternatively they can have personnel to check on the sprinkler system during the rains.

We can extend this analogy to organizations. This can be in terms of mission critical systems that are automated or even personnel related operations like “Annual Appraisals”. I have seen and experienced many organizations going through a very elaborate process to design and build a smart system or process. However, when it comes to obtaining feedback and improvising the system or process, they utterly fail. This could be either lack of a mechanism to collate and analyze feedback or gross negligence.

Moral of the story is, however smart the systems or processes are, unless until you build a good feedback mechanism to continuously improve, the systems will fail or will become outdated and costly over a period of time.

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