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Automation Helps, But Let’s Not Forget the Philosophy

Topics: Industry insights

The most valuable commodity we have as humankind is time. It cannot be created, nor destroyed, only found, or wasted. It is the greatest equaliser we have – regardless of wealth or status, ethnicity or geography, we all have the same 24 hours each day – a finite amount that cannot be increased however hard we try. It is therefore easy to understand why companies that remove time-consuming activities are becoming more prominent and profitable. By viewing Uber not as a cab company, but one that sells the time and convenience lost in waiting for a taxi, or Netflix as one that gives back the time taken to go to and from your local film rental store (for a small monthly fee), we can see a clear trend – digitising previously manual tasks, (in a user-friendly way,) is a popular and profitable endeavour.

This process of digitisation, matched with the rapidly improving capabilities that AI bring to the table, allows for automation to replace some of the most monotonous and time-consuming tasks. Companies can now automate everything from common tasks such as expense reporting, social media posting, sales outreach and onboarding, to industry unique tasks like production line optimisation or medical image review. The automation of these tasks can save untold hours and millions of pounds, with incredible accuracy and the reduction of human error – however, the change is not risk-free. The biggest danger comes post-roll-out - even if the deployment of the new technology is smooth and there are no unforeseen issues, long-term damage can be irreversible due to one ever-present human flaw – complacency.

When the responsibility of fulfilling a process is taken out of our hands, it becomes second nature to monitor that it is being carried out, however, the fundamentals of howthe process is completed quickly fall by the wayside. Regardless of how an activity is completed, the why should always be considered first and foremost – this not only promotes an understanding of the finer points of the task, but also encourages further innovation and improvements. Though automation can take over the menial, time consuming or repetitive tasks, it is imperative to make sure the fundamental knowledge of how and why it is done is not forgotten. By retaining the underlying philosophies surrounding an activity, it is possible to adapt to scenarios previously unconsidered, technologies previously not in existence, and an inevitable changing human interaction.

At DrDoctor, our singular focus is healthcare, more specifically, digitising the patient journey to eliminate wasteful processes and engage people with richer communication – much of this comes through automation of time-intensive tasks such as appointment booking. We constantly challenge ourselves to keep patients and hospital staff at the heart of our innovation - by understanding their needs, we have been able to make the productive changes that last.

When a new system or machine, is integrated successfully, it’s purpose is made clear, it has ‘a use’, and usually there are roles and responsibilities in place for ensuring it continues to function. As time rolls by, the purpose becomes further away from the primary concern, and the smooth upkeep becomes paramount – which can lead to situations like this. Process for the sake process itself. Action for action's sake. The antithesis of innovation. Not only is this unproductive, it weakens morale, is resource intensive, and gets the organisation nowhere.

A fabled experiment, (based on one carried out by G.R. Stephenson) was said to take place where 5 monkeys were placed in a cage with a ladder in the middle, atop of said ladder was a bunch of ripe bananas. Each time a monkey ascended the ladder, a nozzle fixed above them sprayed the rest of the cage with cold water. Needless to say, each time a monkey attempted to reach the prized bananas, the others would inevitably stop them, often quite forcefully, and within a short period of time, no monkey dared to climb the ladder, naturally afraid of the beating they would endure. The scientists then replaced one of the monkeys, who immediately started to climb the ladder, in pursuit of what they saw as food ripe for the picking. This new monkey suffered an aggressive attack by the others, and quickly learned to steer clear of the ladder like the original residents, afraid of the beating it would endure. The researchers then substituted a second monkey, who again tried to reach the prize, and again the original monkeys instantly punished the new resident, but this time, the first new monkey joined in with the group. A third replacement was made, and the same thing happened, as it did when the fourth and fifth monkeys were replaced. What was left was a group of 5 new monkeys who never were subjected to an unpleasant cold soaking, but when a new sixth monkey was introduced to the enclosure, and (of course,) attempted to climb the ladder the newest resident received the same abuse. None of the monkeys knew why it was forbidden, but if it was possible to ask the monkeys why they beat up all those who attempted to climb the ladder, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”

Success can be found where new technological improvements are implemented hand-in-hand with an educational program that strengthens the base knowledge of users and helps them understand the why behind the technological upgrade. In short, automation without understanding will lead to a lot of beaten up monkeys, and not many bananas.