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When good automation goes bad…

– or how not to let your field service automation problems bite you in the butt!

We’re big fans of automation here at Synchroteam. Just as well really, since Synchroteam is a field service automation solution (and you can try it here!). But fans as we are, even we have to admit that automation needs to be handled with care.

First things first. Always remember:

  • Automation’s not a cure all – it’s a tool
  • Automation’s not the end goal – it’s part of the process
  • Automation’s not designed to replace the human touch – it’s designed to enhance it

As automation gains ground in almost all areas of business, people have begun to notice what happens when they take their eye off the end goal, and let automation run wild. No, no, not in the “giant robots taking over the world” kind of wild (although that has been mentioned), just the automation doing what it does – automatically – without the more human side – intuition, interpersonal skills and planning. Let me explain.

Automation running amok!

Basic automation problems

There are several issues that people run into with field service automation. It’s the way things are going, so sooner or later, your organisation will have to deal with these issues too. That means it’s best to consider them BEFORE you buy a solution. In broad strokes:

Automated solutions can be confusing for human techs, and they can really annoy the heck out of them if the solutions aren’t introduced gradually and with care.

Automated solutions aren’t going to single-handedly make millions or execute your IPO. There are limits to automation’s effectiveness.

There’s a real risk of overusing automation – only try it if the task(s) you want to automate are well-defined.

Remember the golden rule – your goal isn’t automation itself, but streamlining of the process. Does the automation help, speed or ease? If not, don’t do it!

Learn from others’ mistakes

By remembering these points when you introduce an automated dispatch solution, you should be able to keep problems to a minimum. Luckily for you, automation outside field service has been big news for a while, so plenty of others have made mistakes – hopefully so you don’t have to repeat them. Like what? Let’s see:

A detailed article from Vox illustrating why computers won’t be stealing our jobs anytime soon. The takeaway? The perfect reading for a tech – or a manager – who’s afraid that automation is the beginning of the end. Spoiler! It’s not…

Suzie from Get App points out what can go wrong when you thoughtlessly automate social media, with a few fail-tastic examples. The takeaway? Social media is a great stepping stone into the world of automation, and some experience can help prepare you for automating bigger, more complex systems. No matter what you’re automating, however, never forget that humans can react to almost anything, but automation can only react to what it’s been programmed for. Let automation take care of the job, but make sure a human eye is never too far from the action.

Don't let your automation go rogue!

The guys over at BellaFSM have written specifically about field service automation problems. The takeaway? 5 pitfalls to guard against, including #3 – an excellent list of things other than features to consider when assessing an automated field service system. You’ll only be able to judge the impact of these features once you’ve been using the solution for a while, but are all aspects that will significantly impact on long-term success.

This Entrepreneur article focusses on marketing automation, but I’d argue that it’s great for field service too. The takeaway? Stop things going wrong by avoiding the 7 deadly sins of automation, all of which can be applied to dispatch software. Numbers 1 and 4, planning and process, are of special relevance.

This Hootsuite blog post focusses on social media too, as well as outing writer Alexandra Samuel as a sort of Robin Hood of cheerfulness! The takeaway? Handy tips to make sure you keep the “social” in social media, and an overall message to remember that underlining any automated system is people, and people like a human touch.

This article about automation “horror stories” says that most issues are the result of “poor planning, creating an overly complicated process, failing to involve the right stakeholders, or a host of other mistakes”. The takeaway? Even when automation goes bad, it’s usually your own fault. Once more, the human link is the weakest one, complete with a real case study that shows how easy it is to mix automation and poor planning, and end up with a hot mess.

This detailed case study from McKinsey is a great start for people in managerial positions considering automated scheduling software. The takeaway? Planning your automation is essential groundwork before purchasing a solution. There’s some solid reading, handy checklists and a clear message: plan well, or reap the consequences.

I hope that instead of scaring you, this article has given you food for thought, and emphasised the one factor that governs all field service automation success: careful planning. Introducing automation to a flawed process or on the basis of incorrect assumptions is the equivalent of building a house on a fault line. It might take a while for the cracks to show, but when it goes off – and it will – the results could be catastrophic!

Have you had any field service automation problems? Let us know over at Twitter!

Images of Godzilla thanks to clry2, Frankenstein thanks to Clement127 and the Lego, um, Snoogdorgh, thanks to Cade Roster.

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