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Automation frustration – why direct control is sometimes better

Much as motoring purists might argue, automatic cars are easier to drive than those with manual-shift gearboxes.

There is simply less to think about, and less frequent interventions needed to keep the car moving.

It’s a good analogy for the benefits automation can bring in business.

By automating mundane, repetitive tasks, you free up time to focus on higher-value work, and that’s why automation is a key part of many businesses’ growth plans.

And it’s no longer the preserve of big business, with a wide array of cloud-based services springing up in recent years to help small businesses take care of everything from managing customer relationships and marketing, to staff payroll and ordering office supplies.

But is automation always better, or are there some cases where keeping manual control of some admin processes can be more efficient?

The downside to automation

For any automated system to deliver efficiency benefits, reliability is critical.

To continue the car analogy, imagine the automatic gearbox failed on just one in every 500 gear changes and the car lost power, requiring immediate intervention from the driver.

The unpredictability of this occasional distraction would be extremely frustrating to say the least, and potentially dangerous. Suddenly, the predictable reliability of a manual shift system would begin to look more appealing, even though it requires intervention on every gear shift.

The same principle applies with any automated system – if it isn’t 100 per cent reliable, the potential for time-consuming disruptions is significant. Very quickly, the unexpected nature of the failure can cancel out the gains made by forgetting about the repetitive tasks.

Take the example of ordering replacement printer toner or ink cartridges.

There are services available that automatically send out top-up supplies based on pre-agreed usage levels.

In principle, this sounds appealing – another admin job off the ‘to do’ list. However, it’s important to weigh the benefits against the risk.

If the replacement shows up late – or you print more than you planned – and you’re left with a printer that doesn’t work, suddenly you might be faced with a trip to the local office supplies shop in order to meet that deadline.

Where there is a risk that the automation will not be 100 per cent reliable, often it is better to find another option.

That’s why our EcoPro printer subscription service puts you in charge of replacement toner and ink. Instead of rigidly mailing out supplies according to anticipated usage, you’re free to re-order supplies through our user-friendly online portal whenever you need them.

Ultimately, the successful automation of routine tasks can lead to optimised efficiency, but if the automation only works 99 per cent of the time – meaning you don’t have absolute confidence in it, and always need to check it has worked – the overall impact might actually be negative.

There’s no question that automation is helping small businesses achieve efficiency and productivity gains in all kinds of different areas, but it’s important to consider the potential pitfalls. In some cases, the best option is to keep it simple.

Find out how our new print subscription service, EcoPro, can help your business.

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