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September 20, 2017

The Good Side of Automation Replacing Jobs

There is a lot of talk these days about A.I. and automation replacing jobs that exist – all of which are valid, but I just wanted to share a story from my experience about the up side of automation and A.I..

Other than Purist AI, I run a coffee business – Purist Coffee. It’s a small operation with only two people working for it full-time (with about 4 contractors fulfilling other tasks on an as-and-when basis).

Because of this set up, our overheads are really low, which is good in a business that’s just over two years old.

As we’ve got busier and brought on more clients, we’ve needed more capacity to do administrative tasks like client follow ups, sales, financials, etc. The thing is, we’re in a unique position where we need more capacity to do those things, but can’t afford to hire people to do them full time.

Enter Automation

Because there were two of us in the business, we both set out on a path to automate as much as possible to free up more capacity within ourselves without having to hire an extra staff member.

There were two main steps:

  1. Standardize processes/systems. (Or create new ones if need be).
  2. Automate those processes.

I’ll explain the process of some of the systems we implemented below:

The first thing we did was made an online ordering system. This gave people our catalogue with real time quoting. So they didn’t have to ask us anything – it was all there. The great thing about that is that it wrote the orders to a database (FireBase). Once the orders were being written to the database, there was just so much we could do with them from there.

So, the next thing we did:

One of the things that is most important to the coffee business, is repeat customers. Because coffee is something that gets used up, you want people to buy more from you when they’re finished the previous batch they got from you.

So, we used to set reminders for a month in the future to follow up with a client to see how their supply was.

This system was iniefficient, didn’t always work (because we forgot to do it) and it also took a lot of cognitive capacity subconsciously thinking about who hadn’t ordered for a while.

So, we made a system (in Python) that detects the date a client last ordered, and then if that date is more than 30 days ago, it notifies us and we easily can follow up with the client if need be.

Doing this removed a lot of worry and thinking, and made our business a lot more sustainable.

You see, we couldn’t have hired someone to do that, it’s not a full time job, but it allowed us to grow our business, which is good for the economy, and will probably create more jobs in the future within our business.

I have a pretty clear view of how automation should be applied in business.

It should be used to do things that humans can’t do, or shouldn’t be doing (mindless tasks that insult the intelligence of any human). In small businesses, it should augment jobs because you often can’t afford to hire someone specifically for that role, in larger businesses, if automation replaces jobs, it is your responsibility to find other value adding work for those people instead of letting them go.

It’s absolute cowardice to replace a human with an algorithm and then hang the humans out to dry as if they aren’t your responsibility any more.

Lastly, here’s an example (that takes its philosophy from Toyota):

If you manufacture shoes, and you replace 100 shoe-box packers with a robot, you need to reallocate those people to a different area (possibly of their choice).

This means that as the shoe manufacturer that you are, you need to always have new things on the horizon. For example, if before you replaced those shoe-box packers with a robot you were already working on new ventures like developing a new shoe, going into the handbag market and maybe implementing a new line of distribution, then you can take those 100 people you replaced and say, “We took your boring job away, now, there are three other areas you can choose to be involved in to help move this business forward – take your pick.”

I may be making it sound easier than it is, but doing business and being a pioneer isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let me know your thoughts below.

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