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Benefits and Guidelines of Automation of Manual Processes

In an era of ever increasing demands being made on employees, the Olas Software Development Department are regularly consulted to see if there are any time (and therefore cost) saving ways to release staff members from an onerous task to allow them to spend time on the important aspects of their role.

A typical scenario we encounter is that of a business analyst who spends more time copying data from one file to another and performing some sort of data transformation before finally beginning their analysis.

Obviously, the time spent retrieving and formatting the data is a necessary one but it does not add any extra insight or value. In other words, if the analyst wasn’t required to do that part there will be no loss or risk.

For the above example, if it is performed on a regular basis and the data transformation follows a specific set of rules (not human intuition) then there is a strong argument to automate said process. Some of the advantages of automation are:

  • It’s usually much quicker.
  • Typically error free (computers don’t suffer from tiredness or distractions!)
  • Can easily be ran again and again (this is a big win – how often do we find ourselves in the middle of a task only to find we have omitted something and must start again).
  • An audit trail can be created.

There are a couple of guidelines that can be used to see if automating a particular task is feasible:

  • For full true automation, the entire task needs to be able to be completed on a single computer.
  • Automation is only really worth considering if the task is a repetitive one. The only case where a one-time only task is worth automating is where the length of time spent developing an automated solution is considerably less than the time required to perform the task manually. Quite often such a task would have some element of repetition involved.
  • A computer program is not capable of ‘intuition’ – therefore all decision points in the process to be automated need to be governable by a specific set of rules.
  • There may be some security features which need to be taken into account in order to allow the automation perform. This generally applies at enterprise level, where the pcs are usually heavily locked down.

An example of a simple piece of automation we completed was for an internal project. The challenge was to select rows of data that meet specific conditions from an Excel file containing multiple columns of data. It was taking approximately thirty minutes every week to complete this manually.

The only information required from the task was three columns for each qualifying row. As the file was already an Excel file, it was decided that an Excel Macro would be the most suitable approach. A VBA macro script was created and saved to the relevant users Personal Macro Workbook.

Now, all that is required to get the required data is open the Excel file, run the macro and within 5 seconds they have a new WorkSheet containing just the data they need to use. A trivial example perhaps, but one which took approximately 35 minutes to develop but has a time saving of about 30 minutes every week.

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