Why So Many Companies Are Complacent With Manual Processes

Why Companies Are Reluctant to Adopt Automation

Automation is reshaping the world in which we live. On a small scale, it enables us to shave a few minutes off our daily routines by skipping a manual task. But on a large scale, it means creating entirely new standards for businesses, drastically improving profitability and enabling new innovation.

Because automation almost universally takes the place of some expensive, manual process and replaces it with something that’s cheap and non-labor-intensive, it’s an entirely net-positive for the company adopting it. And while North American robotics are surging 32 percent, with automated personal apps like IFTTT gaining popularity, there’s still a striking number of companies and managers who are complacent with the manual process—and unwilling to make the transition to automation.

So why is this the case?

Present Functionality

Part of the problem is that your current, manual process works fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. In the world of supply chain management, you can use spreadsheets, emails, and a few phone calls to keep track of your logistics and make key decisions—and you’ll never be aware that a more advanced system would enable you to optimize your inventory better, or allow you to better understand the complexities of your relationships.

In other words, the perks of automation are an unknown. If a manager knew for a fact that an automated system could give them more information and increase productivity by 25 percent, they might adopt it immediately—but they don’t think in these terms. They only see the process they’re used to, working as well as it ever has.

Status Quo Bias

Extending from this is the effect of status quo bias—our innate tendency to resist change in favor of maintaining what we’re already familiar with. People, on average, fear change, especially when it has the potential to disrupt your entire career. It’s far more comfortable to do what you’ve been doing for years.

There are many motivations that drive status quo bias. It could be the fear of regret, dissuading people from investing in automation in case it doesn’t work out as well as planned. It could be loss aversion, another cognitive bias that makes us more sensitive to loss than to comparative gains. But whatever it is, it guides managers to keep their systems the same for as long as possible.

Budgetary Concerns

Another, more rational motivation boils down to budgetary concerns. Most forms of automation come with a high initial cost, eventually making up for that cost with increased efficiency or valuable insights. For example, it may cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a robot that replaces the manual labor of three human beings, but over the course of a year, that robot will likely make up for the difference. The same is true of automated software programs, which shave minutes off every daily task and present businesses with opportunities they might have never considered otherwise.

This is still a product of short-term thinking. It might save you some money today to keep your manual processes in place, but it’s ultimately going to cost you—especially with the competition closing in.

Training and Expertise Concerns

If a manager has little to no experience with technology, they’re going to be reluctant to adopt automation-based solutions simply because they don’t understand them. They may also be unwilling to hire on an IT expert, or a data scientist to aid with the transition. Unless you understand the technology, or have someone on your team who does, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to make the change.

Additionally, most new automated systems still require at least some human action (or oversight). For example, even the most robust data analytics platforms still require some form of data entry (even if it’s scanning things in). That means investing significant resources into training your entire team—and enforcing that training.

Competition Factors

There may also be competition factors at play, though this factor gets somewhat complicated. If your competition is adopting automation technology and you’re not aware of it, you may not be sufficiently motivated to keep pace with them. On the other hand, if you have two or three close competitors that are also refusing to adopt automation due to status quo bias, they may be reinforcing your decision.

Most business leaders still following manual processes aren’t afraid of automation—instead, they just don’t understand it. If you find yourself reluctant to adopt new automation-based solutions, or if you work with someone who bears that reluctance, the best tool you have is knowledge.

Do the research, and calculate how much money you stand to save over the long term. Once you see automation in familiar terms, it will make much more sense to you.