Home > Leadership > Computers & automation can help get things done, but who programs the machines? It’s us, the people

Computers & automation can help get things done, but who programs the machines? It’s us, the people

At the moment am working on a supply chain project for a client supplying into a just in time manufacturing business looking at the various processes supporting the supply of components and sub assemblies work well enough for the lines to keep running.

Delving into these though there is the one factor that, however good or bad the process, the whole thing depends on and that is the human element.

In many ways what you have is more of a chain mail that a chain of single links, but there are points at which the whole thing holds or fails on a single link and one challenge that you have is to assess the risks. These things are a balancing act and the amount of engineering redundancy you build in is a cost so you make the appropriate decisions on whether or not you go for eliminating the risk or just mitigating it.

One of the things that I enjoy about these sorts of projects is that they are a microcosm of business in general, but they are quite easily modelled and fiddled around with. You can accurately predict things such as the effect of failure. You may not be able to eliminate the risk of the occurrence, but early warning of the problem might be enough to avoid the worst consequences.

Automation and robotics take away some of the issues of human frailty in these chains and computer simulation will help the decision making process: It becomes easy to make decisions when the magic box has worked out all of the possible permutations and told you what your three best options are complete with all the consequences of each. All you have to do is to chose one and do what it suggests.

This is all very well, but one of the key skills in managing, as well as in leadership, is in making good decisions. It may well be the best thing in some circumstances to have the machine give you options, and even to evaluate them for you, but there are many times when you will not have such support and so to come to the right decision in those times.

So to have your own decision making process is a vital tool for your skill set. It isn’t that hard to make a decision if you have a system that works for you, but the basics have to be a pragmatic approach to the facts as they are know and an ability to understand what the consequences of the choices you have will be.

Taking a calm approach and working with what you know, and what you can find out within the time available, will almost always lead you down the right path. It is, in essence, what the computer is doing when it models options in a supply chain sense. Sure it can do a lot more and much more quickly, but the only experience it can apply is within the algorithms that it has been programmed with, and they came from people.

It is us, the people, who gain the experience that we can apply to decision making, whether that is in making the decisions ourselves or explaining to the computer software how to examine them. Automation has made enormous strides in delivering consistent standards and reducing costs, but it all has come about from people.

People with ideas and leaders with vision do guide the way, but there are all those people who turn up and just make it all happen. These are the unsung heroes who really good leaders acknowledge and cherish.

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  1. October 10, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Technology still needs humans! What a reassuring thought!

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