Skip to content When Automation Isn’t the Solution

When Automation Isn’t the Solution

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the perspectives of IIBA.
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Process automation projects involve the transition from manual processes to automated processes. They’re meant to be more efficient, cutting costs and enabling employees to spend more time on value add and productive tasks.

Digital transformation provides the promise of automating processes, but when is automation not a viable option for a process? When is it best to just let things be?

The Case for Automation

During stakeholder engagements, my primary goal is to understand current processes and establish strategic alignment and business value for proposed initiatives. I’m always looking for automation candidates in these engagements. The minimum criteria for such processes include:

  • Standardized and repeatable steps
  • Clearly defined business rules for both inputs and outputs
  • Decision-making guided by explicitly defined rules
When a process meets these criteria, I create a process map that breaks it down into individual, interconnected tasks that lead to the desired result, service, or product. This helps translate the tasks into a solution that eliminates the need for manual interventions.

Crucially, this is feasible only for repeatable processes where steps and rules remain defined throughout.

Another criterion is the immediate and long-term impact of the changes on both internal and external stakeholders. While there are always benefits and risks associated with any disruption, the case for automation must meet specific conditions.

The benefits must outweigh the risks, considering not only listed advantages but also intangible effects on factors like revenue, brand perception, and customer management. In addition, the risks should not outweigh the benefits. Emphasis should be on the real-life impact of downsides rather than just the quantity of listed disadvantages.

Finally, it’s critical to address why the change is necessary, the goal of the change, and the potential for achieving long-term stability despite short-term detriments.

The Case for Non-Automation

If there’s an indication that the manual processes lack standardization with repeatable steps suitable for business process automation, or if automating would potentially extend the time required to complete the process, it might be best to pause and reassess whether they’re candidates for automation.

In my experience, project teams or businesses tend to focus too much on automation without evaluating whether it’s optimal. Automation may not always be the most favourable option. Sometimes, manual tasks can prove more efficient than processes that are digitized. The decision should hinge on the anticipated impact and cost associated with the chosen approach.

Another downside to automation is the potential benefit of doing nothing. Even when a process is a candidate for automation, maintaining the current state can be a good choice, especially when the process is low priority, low risk, or has minimal impact on the organization.

Providing stakeholders with the ability to choose "do nothing" empowers them to decide later. They may even choose to leave the process untouched indefinitely. This flexibility acknowledges that not all processes require immediate or automated intervention.


The decision to automate a process involves a thorough evaluation of its suitability based on defined criteria and a careful consideration of the overall impact on stakeholders.

In my experience, project teams tend to prioritize automation without evaluating its suitability. It's important to weigh the anticipated impact and costs associated with the chosen approach.

Giving stakeholders the option to do nothing is a valid consideration that offers the flexibility to defer decisions until the time is right, if ever.

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About the Author
Olabisi Adesina_.jpg

Olabisi Adesina is an IT professional with a core emphasis on business analysis; every other role supports this. She is an ardent practitioner of business analysis and provides consulting and mentorship in this space. She has leveraged business analysis experience to acquire experiences in other roles such as solution architecture, cloud architecture, career counselling, mentoring, and real-time job role support.

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