Business Automation and Software Blog

Overcoming Latencies in Your Manufacturing Process – Part One

Posted by Robert Baran on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 @ 05:58 PM

In our last Positive Point we introduced our new series on Business Latencies – slow processes within your company that can and should be automated to increase efficiency. This week we’d like to take a look at Executing Redundant Tasks.

Definition: The process of performing those repetitive tasks which include some amount of
human intervention.

It’s important to note that a redundant task in itself does not necessarily include Latency; only if the redundant task requires some amount of human intervention does Latency enter the picture to a greater or lesser degree.


The following are examples of redundant task activities in Process Manufacturing that require some degree of user intervention. Note that by definition these examples are not “exceptions” to business-as-usual; they each represent a recurring activity that requires one or more people to expend time and effort that could otherwise be used elsewhere.

  • A sales person who generates and delivers “standard” messages such as Order Confirmations, Quotes, Expirations Notices, and so on.
  • A person in Finance whose generates and delivers Invoices, Payment Reminders, Dunning Notices, etc.
  • Watching inventory levels on a scheduled basis for low inventory or items or raw materials that are due to expire.
  • A person in shipping who tells someone in sales that the delivery of a specific item has been delayed.
  • Running reports and checking for cost, average cost, or last cost variances.
  • IT staff, whose daily tasks include looking for specific “import” files, notifying the appropriate people about these files, and processing them as needed.

Business Impacts:

Any time you allocate an Employee to do work that could be accomplished by Automation, you are wasting precious business time. It’s a plain fact that automation works faster than humans, and so a five-minute human task can often be accomplished in five seconds (or less) by automation. Multiply that one task by the number of times that it’s executed on a daily basis, and you begin realize just how much time you’re wasting per day on just that one task.

If the task can be done as capably by Automation as by an Employee, there’s no reason why an employee should be assigned that task.

And then there is the concept of Human Time, most appropriately summed up in the business refrain:

“Don’t you have something better to do?”

Not all human tasks can (or should) be done by Automation. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore every opportunity to see where Automation is a good fit. After all, “Human Time” – insofar as our unique abilities to converse, brainstorm, and problem solve, are all very valuable commodities, and we should take every opportunity we have to maximize the available time to use these skills, and (correspondingly) minimize those times when such skills are not required.

Anytime you see a repetitive activity taking place around your organization, your first thought should be “Is there some way we can automate that?” Too often organizations assume that just because a repetitive activity has always been done by a human, it must continue to be so. And chief among the reasons why this assumption is made is that organizations incorrectly assume that to remove the human from a redundant task means also to remove the “human element”.

In some cases this may be true, such as the necessary presence of human beings (and not computers) to staff most organizations’ Customer Support Departments. There, the human element (albeit often combined with technology) is usually essential.

But consider the example of a staff member who manually generates (and delivers) each purchase order to a vendor. What is the “human element” in such a task? The human element in this scenario is the friendly, personalized message. Is such a personalized message beyond the means of today’s technology? Not at all; this is an ideal task for Automation, and it enables employees to devote more time to more demanding (and profitable) endeavors.

The Latencies connected with Redundant Task Execution also include Data Integrity. Although humans have certain traits that distinguish us from (and give us unique advantages over) Automation, we too have our weaknesses. Chief among them is our proclivity to make mistakes. Consistency of performance is simply not one area where humans outperform Automation.

And when you consider that the overriding goal of reducing Latencies is improved organizational efficiency, the one sure-fire way to negatively impact efficiency is to make mistakes. Mistakes themselves not only waste time, but more often than not end up creating ancillary business situations which themselves consume additional resources. If for no other reason than Data Integrity, the Automation of Redundant Tasks is key to an organization’s efforts to reduce Data Latency.

Reducing the Latency of Executing Redundant Tasks:

So – how does an organization go about reducing the Latencies caused by Redundant Task Execution? The simple answer is “automate” – but consideration and planning need to go into that decision.

First of all, determine if a redundant task is a good one to automate. Consider the “human element”, and decide whether the amount of time expended on the task justifies the investment in Automation.

Second, consider the type of functionality required by suitable Automation. Although some recurring tasks can be automated through Job Scheduling Automation, such Automation would not be sufficient to address the examples listed on the preceding page.

Why? Because these recurring tasks have one special requirement – their execution is conditional. Whether it’s the presence of newly-entered inventory, or the submission of a web form from a specific client, the execution of these redundant tasks is based on the presence of certain conditions. Job Scheduling Automation (in general) does not have the ability to “detect and trigger” when tasks should be performed.

Detection in particular is key. Most organizations fail to automate redundant tasks simply because they believe Automation is not capable of identifying the unique set of conditions required to trigger a task.

This is not true; intelligent detection and response Automation solutions do exist, and they are indeed the answer to this particular problem.

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Topics: Business Data, organizational efficiency