Failure to automate: 3 ways it costs you

Jason James, CIO of Optima Healthcare Solutions, discusses three thorny issues tied to automation: Employee burnout, human error, and opportunity costs
467 readers like this.

When I ask IT leaders what they see as the biggest benefit to automation, “savings” is often the first word out of their mouths. They’re under pressure to make their departments run as efficiently as possible and see automation as a way to help them do so.

Cost savings are certainly a benefit of automation, but I’d argue that IT leaders who pursue automation for cost-savings alone are missing the bigger picture of how it can help their businesses.

The true value of automation doesn’t lie in bringing down expenses, but rather in enabling IT teams to scale their businesses.  

[ Want automation lessons learned from your peers? See our comprehensive resource, Automation: The IT leader's guide. ]

Failing to automate can cost the business in significant ways. Below are three of the biggest challenges that can bring down an IT organization. 

1. Employee burnout

Being on call from time to time is part of life for most IT professionals. If a mission-critical system goes down, someone needs to be able to step in at a moment’s notice. But having an IT person on call shouldn’t be confused with environments where your IT team is frequently working around the clock on monitoring, maintaining, or updating systems that could be automated. 

It’s hard to find or train good IT people. If you’re asking them to work nights and weekends often, the chances of burnout increase dramatically. This turnover can be quite expensive — research from the Society of Human Resource Management shows that when a business replaces a salaried worker, it can cost businesses between six to nine months of that person’s salary.

But the value lost here is much more than just costs associated with employee turnover. When you give your IT teams a better quality of life, they will be much more likely to recommend your company as a great employer to their networks. If you’re looking to scale, this word of mouth will be critical to your company’s recruiting initiatives. 

Moreover, quality employees want to be inspired and work on industry-changing, career-building projects. Automation doesn’t just help ease the IT workload, it frees them to be creative in developing next-generation business solutions.   

2. Human error reduction

When you’re asking your IT team to constantly update complex systems, sooner or later people will make a mistake. Automation greatly reduces the chance of human error, which in turn helps businesses run much more effectively and efficiently.

If you want to get a better understanding of just how much human error in an IT department is costing your business, try this exercise: Document errors that your IT team makes, and then try to put a dollar value next to the cost of each error. Costs could include the time it takes your IT team to resolve the error, impact to clients or internal departments, or worse, the number of clients you lost as a result. These losses more than justify the business case for automation. 

But much like with my first point about employee burnout, reducing errors isn’t just about saving money. It’s about allowing your company to scale. The larger your company becomes, and the more complex the IT infrastructure gets that’s supporting your organization, the more likely humans are to make mistakes. You want to ensure that IT errors aren’t causing your business to slow down at moments when there’s incredible demand for your product or service. 

3. Opportunity costs

I have one more exercise for you: For at least one month, encourage everyone on your team to track which projects they’re spending their time on in a centralized system. Now take that data and identify the top three IT time-consumers. What could your team be doing if their routine and repetitive tasks were automated, and they got all that time back? What projects do you have in your backlog that the business needs?

When IT employees go through this exercise, the first thought that comes to mind is usually, “Once these tasks are automated, we’ll lose our jobs.” But a good IT leader doesn’t think that way. If you’re a CIO tasked with helping your company expand, you know this time could be spent working on longer-term projects that add real value to the business, rather than simply keeping the lights on. While ensuring smooth operations is critical, these types of menial, operational tasks can cause your IT organization to grow stagnant. 

[ CIO Cynthia Stoddard on her team's experince getting over job loss worries. See our related story, Adobe CIO: How IT automation became a team eye-opener.]

Remember, automation does save money, but more importantly, it gives your company the opportunity to scale and drive tech empowerment of the business. 

Want more wisdom like this, IT leaders? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.

Jason James is CIO of Net Health. He has led IT operations for fast-growth technology companies for over twenty years.