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Getting your Automation Projects off the Ground – Just do it!

At BioIT Solutions, one of our core principles is to learn from experience. Rather than initially building a large, comprehensive system, we counsel our customers to carve out a modest set of capabilities and get the system operational quickly. Once the system is in production, we often find that our pre-implementation concepts and assumptions begin to diminish in importance; to be replaced by new requirements that emerge through system use.

This approach differs significantly from the prevailing methods of modern IT departments. Modern IT departments are very concerned about getting “it” right the first time. Once a particular project is given the green light, it usually goes through a lengthy requirements gathering phase where months (and sometimes years) can elapse before the customer ever sees anything tangible. These projects can get trapped in “analysis paralysis” as my partner likes to say. And a fair number of them never see the light of day due to shifting leadership, sponsorship, or business priorities. No wonder an increasing number of line units are doing end-arounds IT and procuring computing needs from non-traditional sources.

Why is there such a disconnect between the business units and IT? The problem stems from an outdated notion of computing costs. In the old economy, computers were expensive. If a company was to embark on a computer project, they had better get it right the first time, because the cost of computers, software licenses, and professional services were high. But today, computers are cheap. The cost of having to refine or even rewrite a computer system pales in comparison to the risk of standing still and letting competitors get the first-mover advantage. In other words, the lost deliberation time is now more costly than making implementation mistakes.

Adding Structure
At BioIT Solutions, we often automate paper-based or Excel based processes. The additional rigor of an automated system causes the business to adapt. No longer can associates scribble notes in the margins. They must use the available transactions to record their activities. The data must be highly ordered or the system will not accept it. During our automation projects, both the business and the data are transformed. These changes result in big benefits such as increased visibility, reduced turn-around, higher reproducibility, etc. Even if we were to eventually replace our system, the business and data transformations would more than justify the expense.

This happened in one such during the early 2000s. I led a materials inventory project that unified 3 excel spreadsheets used by procurement, the warehouse, and the QC department respectively. The system improved cross-department collaboration, reduced duplicate effort, and resulted in less waste. When the business ultimately moved these processes into SAP, the data was well-formed and the business was already used to a transactional system. Making the leap to SAP was much easier and resulted in a much smaller professional services allotment.

The benefits you and your business will reap from automation projects are real. So don’t spend too much time getting your automation projects off the ground – Just do it!