The Fatal Impulse: Automation Still Need Good Human Systems

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“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates

In our sector’s push towards measuring and automating everything, it’s important to remember that businesses exist to serve people, beyond this, they have no reason to be. All tools and measurements are merely a means towards delivering better care, and in a complex sector like ours, you cannot measure complexity – there are just too many variables. 

Much premium has been placed on data. Taking stock of sector discussions on data, there is a naïve view that collecting data itself will naturally lead to better decisions and processes.

This is a flawed impulse based on a simplification. Data is only useful if it’s relevant to your business, and is clean. Additionally, you need to know the problem that you’re trying to solve.

There has been much focus on technology itself, yet as Bali Padda, former COO of LEGO once noted:

“Deploying the latest digital connectivity does not guarantee you have a modern, agile and high performing business, in the same way that owning a superbly engineered car won’t guarantee that you will be a great driver.”

In this regard, it’s important to note that while the digital revolution is real, and that technological breakthroughs do bring about considerable organisational and social benefits, this can only happen if human systems are already working well. The technology is just the car, you are the driver.

As Sanders and Wood noted in their article The Secret to AI is People:

“Our key takeaway is counterintuitive. Competing in the age of AI is not about being technology-driven perse—it’s a question of new organizational structures that use technology to bring out the best in people. The secret to making this work, we learned, is the business model itself, where machines and humans are integrated to complement each other. Machines do repetitive and automated tasks and will always be more precise and faster. However, those uniquely human skills of creativity, care, intuition, adaptability, and innovation are increasingly imperative to success.”

Key to successful automation is to be clear about:

  • what you are automating
  • why you are automating
  • how this contributes to your organisation’s value chain

Implicit in these considerations is the need to understand your business’ value and cost drivers, and to understand how these two drivers interplay with each other.

Much of our commercial imperatives in aged services involve reducing costs, and increasing efficiency and productivity. However, automating organisational processes without fully understanding its potential impacts on how our organisations deliver care, can lead to unintended counter-productive consequences.

In a nutshell, automating a bad organisational system is essentially doing wrong things more quickly.

Being in the business of caring for older persons, our digital tools and automated processes need to be aligned to existing human systems and consumer needs.

Merlin Kong, Head of Innovation and Industry Development, Aged & Community Care Providers Association

Published in ACCPA Aged Care Today, Summer 2022