The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Operational Automation will Always Win Out in the End

automation.pngWhen I think about the current discussion about moving work off-shore I think of it as a cost saving tactic that will happen, but will eventually be overcome by events.


Having an on-site workforce is expensive and will continue to go up over time (inflation). You can find low cost locations. They start out low, but inflationary pressures (supply and demand) will force them up too. Once they pass the price point of another location, those resources will join into the mix as well. The management of this workforce will become more and more complex until a point is reached where the value generated is not worth the communications issues or other complexities and the environment stabilizes.


Automation on the other hand starts out as being very expensive to implement, but its costs continue to lower over time. It should result in higher quality as well. There are inflationary pressures for automation, but they’re offset in larger organizations by being able to leverage the techniques across a wider base for a relatively minor additional investment.


One perspective of this is that when I am saying “I am only human”, I’m really talking about how creative humans are. As an organization implements a more standardized and stable environment (automated), the need for creativity changes to focus on optimization and problem solving for unusual events. We’ll always need people to come up with new ideas and solutions, but it will be a different kind of role than what most individuals in an organization perform today.


I was talking with Randy Mears about this and he agreed that automation eventually will win out in areas that can be effectively automated, but many times the initial attempts are done poorly or for the wrong reasons. A great example of this is interactive voice response (e.g., press 1 for technical support). These can be some of the most frustrating man-machine interfaces we encounter on a regular basis. The drive for a lower costs solution is lowering the customer service bar to the point where this kind of service is almost an expectation. They’ve effectively translated their support costs into taking up our time navigating their bureaucracy – a time honored approach. With that said, IVR can provide me with information (e.g., bank balance) that would be cost prohibitive to provide, compared to almost any other means, on a large scale in a timely fashion.

Bounded Awareness

I was reading ComputerWorld this weekend and there was an article titled: How Did I Miss That?, that caught my attention. In the past, I've mentioned issues about attention management and information overload. This article was an interview with Max Bazerman who has done some work on why it actually happens.

There is a paper that he and Doally Chugh wrote titled Bounded Awareness: What You Fail to See Can Hurt You, that goes into more detail.

Bounded awareness is when we fail to see information in our environment because we are overly focused on some other segment of what's out there. The information is readily available, but we don't recognize it's meaning. Attention management may be one method of overcoming this. Agentry and business rules would likely be another. Computers need to focus on the normal operations and identify anomalies outside their domain and notify people so they can focus their attention and address the situation.

This would be a shift from a man-machine interface to a machine-man interface. Making the computer more context aware. In this case, the context is both that of the enterprise as well as the user, and the machine alerts the people about areas to focus their attention (or awareness).

Pattern recognition and false positives - a personal experience

I had an experience that resonated with me personally about some of the elements I've been discussing in this blog. Since scenarios can many times convey information better than just facts and supposition, here goes...


A few months back, I had to have eye surgery to correct a torn retina. Actually it was two procedures, since the first one was not sufficient. Before I had the second MUCH more intrusive repair, they gave me an EKG. The EKG machine recognized a pattern in my heart rhythm that indicated WPW - a type of irregular heart beat and notified the nurse. They delayed my surgery for about one and a half hours until it could be verified by a specialist that there was little risk.


The next day after the surgery, my primary care physician looked at the EKG and said "I don't see it, but let's be safe." So I got an appointment with a cardiologist. After a few weeks and numerous tests, on Friday I got a clear bill of health, "No problems and your fine - for someone your age'" and the usual admonishment to loose some weight, watch your cholesterol and continue to exercise.


I feel much better about the whole thing now, even if my insurance company probably does not.


This all started because an automated agent sitting on the edge of the healthcare industry recognized a pattern that may indicate a problem – a unique situation. Since it was rather important (at least to me), I was able to rally the human resources available to provide their expertise and make a decision about if it was worth addressing. It focused the attention of the humans involved on the situation.


This scenario is an indication of what will happen in business in the near future, as we shift our focus and implement a more model driven business.


By the way my eye is slowly getting better as well.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation.