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Dear Humans, Automation Needs You

Sep 17, 2018 3 min.
An honest note about the human role in automated IT solutions.

An eerie and sombre quiet filled the House of Commons of the U.K. Parliament as health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed that more than 200,000 women in England had missed their free breast cancer screenings.

In his statement, Mr. Hunt revealed that hundreds of women may have died due to an IT error.

As the news story developed, it became clear that the fault lied in an algorithm within an automated system that was designed to send free cancer screening notifications to women aged 50 years and older. A reporting system flagged a significant decline in the number of women receiving cancer screenings.

However, this statistical discrepancy was never investigated.

A public health problem with an IT solution allows doctors, nurses, and administrative staff to spend their measured time serving patients instead of managing schedules and paperwork. But at what point does the IT solution become the problem?

IT and automation empower professionals and subject matter experts in several industries to invest their attention towards ‘the big picture’. However, IT consultants tend to let clients (and the general public) down by not fully explaining automation – its inherent shortcomings and required level of human intervention.

At a most basic level, baking is an automated process. The user sets a specific temperature and time on the oven; however, the most critical aspect of the recipe requires the human touch. The user must check the cake to see if it’s rising and not burnt. In the end, only a small part of the entire process is automated.

The same principle applies outside your home kitchen. Business analysts must communicate with clients and stakeholders to synthesize all the requirements and understand the end solution. Developers must build the system with automated processes such as new employee hiring, customer service, IT help desks, customer facing communications. Afterwards, there must be thorough quality checks to ensure the system’s effectiveness. Even after deployment, outputs require follow-up evaluations for intended outcomes.

A closer to attention to outputs may have saved over 200 women from breast cancer. Automation will undoubtedly continue to advance modern medicine, but it is not synonymous with automatic. It can allow professionals to focus on creating better solutions and improving processes – however, automation is itself a process, inclusive of humans from beginning to end. So, go forth and automate. But be honest with your clients and yourself about the amount of human involvement in automation.

By David Vaughan
Senior Associate
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