Automation as a Competitive Advantage


I spent the last two days with a working group of people from a number of companies looking to create a product (company) that provides more automation for enterprise application integration and the programming tasks associated with it. The great paradox of automation is that it leads to productivity gains and at the same time also increases quality because of greater repeatability. This has been and will continue to be a bitter pill for IT employees to swallow.

In that sense, they're no different than workers in other industries. The automobile workers resisted automation with everything they had until the Japanese, with a heavy dose of the very thing they were fighting, started to close down their plants. Then they realized that it was a choice between automation or not having an automobile industry in the US. The Japanese used our reluctance to automate as a competitive advantage. Automation gave them productivity, but the real gain was in the quality of their product---a property largely enabled because automation created repeatable processes.

Probably the best instance of this phenomenon in IT is desktop management. It won't come as any surprise to regular readers of this blog to know that I'm a big fan of desktop management in the enterprise. The promises of desktop management are the same as EAI automation: better productivity (read "reduced costs") and increased quality. The pushback that I always got in the workplace was IT workers whispering to anyone who would listen "sure, it might costs less, but you'll never get good service." In fact, every automation example you can find shows that, properly implemented, automation leads to better quality.

To get a little more specific, I estimate that the State of Utah could save $10-20 million per year through desktop management and other reforms in the way IT is managed in the state. That's significant money. I don't espouse making the changes and then hoping the savings arrive, rather the State ought to do a third party study of how IT is organized and how service is delivered. Unfortunately, employees are so scared of the automation and what it might mean to them that they have poisoned any discussion of automation with red herring arguments about other issues. I challenge the legislature to appropriate some money for a study by a reputable group and then follow their advice. You owe it to the taxpayers of the State.

What does this mean to your business? Competitive advantage doesn't usually follow from something that anyone can go out and buy. You can get some advantage in the short term (3-5 years) however, if your enterprise is able to make the move to automation in IT early while your competitors flounder in self-doubt and angst.