Automation is a hot topic in digitalisation because it offers the promise of optimising what humans don’t do well, which is repetitive tasks. Human shortcomings in this area are behind many of the poor customer experiences we have all suffered and which destroy brand loyalty.

Here’s a straightforward and reasonably commonly occurring example of why companies need to automate to improve their digital transformation programmes: your cellphone contract comes up for renewal. You phone the call centre, you may be excited to order the newly released Samsung or iPhone, in white this time because a change is as good as a holiday, right?

“The worldwide release is in two days and we’ll have stock for you,” the agent says. Two days later, in the late afternoon because you have a job, you’re at the store. You sign the papers (why are there so many?) and then the clerk gives you the new phone. In black.

“I asked for white.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, we’re out of stock of white. It’s very popular for this model.” You quickly decide the jail term isn’t worth the knee-jerk reaction and ask when they can get stock. A few days. Great job, you think, typical service provider. You smile at your own sarcastic emphasis of “service provider”. Hey, you’re only human.

How do you fix those broken digitalised processes?

You know the processes are disconnected because obviously one or more of the store clerks were handing out phones to customers who hadn’t ordered them or who changed their minds about the colour – and the system didn’t link issued stock back to stock holding so you order wasn’t flagged as being incomplete. The computer systems are discrete, they’re disconnected, they’re not sharing information with one another in intelligent and meaningful ways.

Compare that with Amazon’s online bookstore. They’re the go-to example for digital efficiency. Takealot is following suit here in South Africa. They’re such great success stories because they efficiently and effectively automated their digitalised processes from one end to the other. They created a seamless transition so you don’t notice shifting from web searcher, to website browser, to buyer. And Amazon is particularly good at using its extensively interconnected and digitalised process for personalised follow-up marketing that gets it right more often than not. Which is probably why Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, is the richest man in the world.

The cellphone service provider in my example clearly automated discrete islands, or isolated parts, of the process. And it’s a good thing because digital automation yields benefits for the company. But it breaks down at the points of disconnection because that’s typically where people start to fill in the gaps and people are notoriously unreliable.

One of the reasons behind these islands of automation is that IT departments are challenged to deploy solutions quickly and accurately. They run out of time and they run out of resources and they are compelled to meet specific and often immediate narrowly scoped goals that disallow broader comprehension of the more strategic business issues. But there are other reasons too. This particular issue led to the DevOps movement, which you can read about in my blog here. Essentially, DevOps aims to connect development processes to operations for a number of benefits.

But moving on, the good news is that there are now software tools that we can use to bridge these islands of automation to create a seamless whole. That whole maximises previous automation investments so that your business is fully digitalised and can perfectly repeat essential tasks with as few mistakes as possible. And that means we humans can focus on our strengths, which are creative thinking and problem solving, rather than the difficult process of making customers happy.