Expert Perspectives: Life Before Automation

Windows, UNIX, Linux
March 16, 2017

It’s a brave new world out there. Automation has transformed and streamlined how enterprises are managed, from onboarding customers to financial transactions to reporting.

The advantages of automation are obvious, but running processes manually wasn’t so bad either… right?

We’ve taken you into the future of workload automation, now let’s hop back into the time machine and hear what three industry experts have to say about what life was like before automation.

Pat Cameron, Director of Automation Technology

One of my worst pre-automation adventures happened when I was the Operations Manager of a hospital here in Minnesota. Back then we had no automation and minimal job scheduling for our nightly processing. Each night the computer operators would read through their run sheets and select menu options to submit all of the reporting and summarization jobs that needed to be run so that hospital statistics would be correct and reports would match up with where patients were actually located.

One of these tasks was to change the processing date on the system. One night an operator thought she would get a head start on her task list, so she changed the system time before midnight. When midnight rolled around, the system automatically changed the time again, so all of the business office reports had tomorrow’s date on them. It was very painful because we didn’t become aware of the problem until later in the morning when the business office staff started looking at their reports. The result was system downtime and re-running the nightly jobs.

Customers without workload automation tools often tell me about scheduling jobs with time delays so they can make sure dependencies are met. Even with the delay, they often are not met if the prerequisite runs long or the file that they expected never shows up. IT departments are also writing and maintaining scripts to take those dependencies into account. That’s precious developer time wasted on a homegrown workload automation tool! People are also going to work every weekend or the last day of every month to run a week-end job or monitor a month-end process.

Mike Stegeman, Senior Data Access Consultant

Having a degree in accounting, I always think of the accounting or recording of transactions when I see old movies or read books. Take Dickens classic “Christmas Carol,” for example. Ebenezer Scrooge was meticulous in keeping track of his books. He knew how much each and every person owed him. But it also consumed all of his time! That was all he and Bob Cratchit would do day in and day out.

My first job out of college was with ADP Dealer Services, putting computers into car and truck dealerships. My accounting degree was necessary because you needed to transfer the data either from manual systems or legacy systems to the ADP system.

At one smaller car dealership in Wisconsin I had a hard time getting the books to balance. Since smaller computers were still in their infancy and I was new to the computer world, I thought that either the input or the reports were wrong. I spent days going over the reports, the files, anything I could think of. Eventually I had to move on to the next dealership.

When I did return, the office manager was gone. Apparently, she had been kiting—taking the money coming in from customers and pocketing it herself. The money coming in from a different customer was applied to the first customers account to remove suspicion. If the second customer questioned their balance, they were told it hadn’t caught up yet.

In a manual system, the bank usually gets blamed for discrepancies. It was the process of computerizing the books that uncovered the office manager’s scheme. Using an automated double entry accounting system that validates entries and posting will uncover most fraud and theft.

Later, at the dawn of the AS/400 era in 1988, I was working for a company that wrote software for property management companies. When I started, the software ran on the IBM S/36 or S/38. When we converted the software to native AS/400, our clients had to do a conversion as well. This required adequate disk space because a copy of the data needed to be made for the conversion.

One client had an S/36. Their backups were done to 8-inch floppy disks. Their S/36 had a magazine reader. Each magazine could hold 10 floppy disks. Their data backup used 97 disks or 10 magazines. When they purchased a new AS/400 from IBM, they did not buy a big enough system to run the conversion. So it was decided that we would do the conversion for them and they sent us the 10 magazines.

The AS/400s of that time did have available 8-inch floppy drives, but no magazine reader. It was my task to manually load the data from all 97 disks, one disk at a time, into a library on our AS/400. About two-thirds of the way through, the power went out in the building. We were connected to a battery backup but the conversion was interrupted and I needed to start all over at the beginning.

Richard Schoen, Director of Document Management Technologies

Since my skillset revolves around helping companies with document management and paperless process management, I'll tell you a story from the 1980's way-back machine. In the land before paperless we had these large devices called line printers. Line printers were voracious things that were dusty and hungry for 11 x 17 reams of paper. They were also loud enough to warrant padded headphones to avoid going crazy from all the noise. And it took a lot of electricity to run one of these behemoths.

Several companies I worked for used to print two to three foot high stacks of reporting at month end so the sales and marketing teams could review the monthly sales information. The month-end printing process would normally span an entire weekend and sometimes into the next week. Lest we forget, this included re-prints and bad ribbons and jammed paper feeders. The unlucky computer operator who got to watch and manage the process was usually exhausted after these weekend endeavors of listening to the drone of printing along with the loud grinding sounds from computer system disk drives the size of washing machine drums. Then 30 days later, the old reports would be archived in a file room, warehouse, or thrown away in the trash and the entire process would begin all over again.

This was also a time before PCs and Excel were invented, making the accounting team a cranky bunch when they had to balance the books each month by poring over page after page of accounting reports, highlighting errors with colored highlighters in various pastel colors to mark where investigation was needed. Then they would fill in data in manual spreadsheets and tape them together when there were not enough columns. The numbers were judiciously added up using 10 key calculators. I became quite good at working a 10-key calculator, a skill I have maintained over the years although it's seldom used.

Flash forward to today's world of automated daily, weekly and month-end processes that just happen. Electronic reports get generated automatically as PDF documents and spreadsheets from system data. Documents are archived to network drives, sent via email or captured in to document management software.  Month-end decision making can often be done automatically by simply allowing systems to run their scheduled tasks and automated auditing processes. I fondly remember the past, but am constantly amazed by how our technology helps organizations worldwide automate their daily processes.

Automation is sounding pretty good, isn’t it?

You may not be taping together paper spreadsheets or converting 8-inch floppies, but the chances are your business is still doing some manual tasks that could be streamlined through automation.

Are you writing extra code to manage dependencies that could be handled by a tool that supports event-driven job scheduling? Do you manually keep tabs on your processes when you could be relying on automatic notifications to let you know if anything goes wrong?

To learn more about how an enterprise job scheduler can make your processes more efficient and reliable, get a free trial of Automate Schedule today. 


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