Have we gone too far with technology? What about the human factor?

Thinking about the "silo mentality" and the issues of automation.

Is it just me or is technology becoming both too complex and, at the same time, more unreliable?

Without boring you with the details I have had a few run-ins with helpdesks recently.  So much so, my twisted sense of humour has me calling them “hindrance desks”.  There are so many points around operational effectiveness that struck me:

  1. When things have gone wrong it seems that I always need to be the one who is driving the issue.  I have to ring up and chase progress, I have to force people to see my problems and I have to ring a different department when it becomes clear that the person I’m speaking to is not able to sort my problem.  This sort of thing happens in many organisations, the “silo” mentality, where departments are great at achieving their own targets but fail to work jointly with other departments for the common good.  This is often driven by departmental targets rather than a balanced scorecard approach.
  2. When ringing the hindrance desk I now find myself in multiple choices of multiple choices; “press 1 to be very confused” or “press 2 if you wish to get lost in our menu system” with often no chance to speak to a real person.  This again is prevalent in organisations where the e-mail culture is killing conversation and cooperation.  Too many e-mails are “cc’d” as an insurance policy and sending an e-mail is considered to be a “job done” rather than following through and making something happen together.
  3. The sheer complexity of our tools is also becoming an issue for me.  Automating plant is great for safety but can reduce the time an individual spends on the plant using their senses to check how well the plant is operating.  Automation can also reduce the amount of “thinking” an operator does, relying instead upon the DCS to make many of the decisions.  And this complexity requires even greater levels of individual competence and we’ve not traditionally been good at training people for such systems.  Not to mention when a change is made to the automated process, how many times is the operator the last to know that a change has been made, and how often is the training rolled out as per the ‘management of change’ process?
  4. The complexity is also an issue in that, as computers get more powerful, the software complexity expands to fill the gap with the result that it keeps breaking down and/or runs as slow as before rather than being an improvement.

So what is the point of this blog?  Firstly to allow me to rant about my recent frustrating experiences but also to get us all to think about what we impose upon our customers, internal and external, and how working with those people can reduce the frustrations and improve the operational performance.  In the good old days we used to use ledgers, etc., to manage our sales and costs.  They worked but were slow and IT has definitely been an improvement but now ERP systems like SAP drive us and they can sometimes seem to be adding time to the transactions rather than speeding up the process.  We need to ensure we use technology to improve our operations not allowing the technology to slow us down.

Image: Steve Jurveston, flickr

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About the author

Dave Dyer

Dave Dyer is a principal consultant within the Operations Improvement team in ABB Consulting. His speciality is in bringing sustainable change and operational benefits to an organisation through the engagement of its people. He hopes to share good ideas and good practice, to inform and to learn.
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