Rise of the Machines : When Automation Goes Too Far


With tools for automating workflows like IFTTT and Zapier, are we at risk of taking things too far? What is too far? And why does it matter?

My work at WorkFlowPro is aimed at increasing productivity – and part of this is to make use of process automations. I help others to work smarter and faster rather than harder or longer, and above all to get better results for the same level of input.

In my experience, when you run a small business there are never enough hours in the day to do absolutely everything that you want to do – but work hours have to end sometime because yes, you do have a life too. When you work for yourself your time really is money – and a smart workflow will gain you your best return on investment.

The nub of the question revolves around how you use automation, and what you use it for.

When you use an integration between two or more digital services or platforms you are using technology to perform a task for you, instead of you, freeing up your time to do something else. But my point is: just because you can, does it mean you should?

Automation is GOOD when it:

  • Performs otherwise time consuming tasks.
  • Performs repetitive tasks on a regular basis.
  • Performs tasks that require no human input – judgement, opinion, emotion, preference etc.
  • Helps to ensure nothing gets forgotten or left out.
  • Helps to enhance your business activities.

Automation is BAD when it:

  • Applies a carte blanche approach to a subjective process.
  • Does not allow for refinement or filtering.
  • Produces quantity at the expense of quality.
  • Is clear to clients and potential clients that a machine and not a human is doing the work.
  • Stifles the creative process.
  • Removes individuality and whatever factor it is that makes your business you.

Here are some examples using common IFTTT recipes, some of which appeared in my earlier post: A Day In The Life of An IFTTT Addict – 22 Recipes To Help You Run Your Life

Good automation…

You like a tweet that contains a link to an interesting article – that article is automatically saved to your Pocket list so that you can read it later.

[Why? So you can scan your Twitter feed on the go and not miss something that you want to read more about.]

…Bad automation

You often share articles to social media from a particular blog – you link the RSS feed of that blog to your social platform so that it shares every new post regardless of what it is about.

[Why? Your brand is specific, followers expect consistency and relevancy and you risk posting random irrelevant content.]

Good automation…

When you receive an email with attachments, the attachment files are automatically backed up to your Google Drive.

[Why? When you work across disparate locations and on multiple devices you want to ensure you can access important files wherever you are.]


…Bad automation

Whenever you post a new tweet. However trivial, the update is also posted to your Facebook Page.

[Why? Twitter is a less formal and more in-the-moment platform than Facebook – you want your Facebook Page to remain professional and some tweets you just wouldn’t want popping up there – plus you probably post to Twitter far more frequently than you would want to post to Facebook.]

Good automation…

When you change your profile image or header image on one social channel it is automatically updated on your others.

[Why? Another important factor in creating your personal brand is uniformity, followers get know you through your imagery so you don’t want to confuse them!]


…Bad automation

You set up an automatic retweet for all tweets from a specific user.

[Why? This would hand control of your shared content over to the user you are retweeting – if they go off-topic, or lose the plot and tweet inappropriately, your reputation is going to suffer.]

I’m sure you’re getting my drift by now.

The upshot is that yes there is such a thing as too much automation, and that just because it is possible does not necessarily mean that it should be implemented.

Of course every business is different, and every business owner has different priorities, benchmarks and ways of working – something that is of critical importance in one industry may not matter two hoots in another.

As with many things in life, you often need to invest time in order to save time – so when you come across a potential service, application or integration that seems to offer you a better, quicker, smarter, easier or more effective way of working you really need to take time to evaluate it in full before you blindly press that button.

Ask yourself the following questions:workflow-and-bpm

  • What am I really trying to achieve here?
  • How does this actually work, and are there any other ways of doing this?
  • Does this fulfil want I want/need in absolutely every circumstance?
  • What if … (any of the worst case scenarios you can imagine) happens?
  • How would this impact my business if something went wrong?
  • What does it cost?
  • What will I save?
  • Is it worth it?
There are no hard and fast right or wrong answers or solutions, this is quite a subjective process, and one where you may benefit from the services of an outside agency or business advisor.