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The Golden Rule of Automation

The other day a software industry exec told us that the lifetime of software is between three and five years. We don't know who thinks up these things, and for a number of reasons we're not buying it. At any rate, the lifetime of an Aestiva automation is longer than that. We introduced our Power Office automation platform in 2002 and still don't see customers giving up on it. Not after almost a decade.

Whether this three-to-five year software lifetime thing is true or not doesn't matter to us anyway. Let the techies chew on that one. We don't create systems with built-in obsolescence - neither obsolescence of desirability or obsolescence of function.

So, what is it that we do that makes our systems last? There's an approach we follow which, for lack of a better name, we'll call "The Golden Rule." It goes like this:

If a process is difficult to explain it should probably not be automated. If it must be automated, then take extra care to ensure the process is clear to everyone.

Let's look at the first part first.

1) If a process is difficult to explain it should probably not be automated.

Of course, this rule is not always easy to follow. Customers ask us to automate situations involving overly-complex processes all the time. And they're often "hard" requirements. "We must, must, must have this feature!"

For example, a recent Aestiva customer required that we build in some very complex tax calculations into an invoice processing tool. The customer was spending all day doing the calculations manually. She could continue crunching numbers all day, tearing her hair out, or get automated and have time to stand in line at Starbucks like the rest of us and catch up with her other responsibilities.

The second part of this Golden Rule gave us guidance:

2) If it must be automated, ensure the process is visible.

This is where many software companies and application developers fail. When a process is highly complex, it is explained somewhere deep in a document that is eventually lost, or worse, in the head of someone highly familiar with the application who eventually moves on. (In this day and age, people move more frequently than those average software lifetime numbers.)

Developers don't mean for their systems to fail or go obsolete. They're just delivering what the customer wants. At Aestiva we know the software needs to outlast your people and anyone at Aestiva involved with your project, so we also give you what you want, but we give it to you with our "special handling" - our experiences and bags of tricks.

In the case of the customer's complex tax calculations, we displayed and explained the calculation on the screen where the calculation was made. It was posted in plain sight for all to see.

This "Golden Rule" seems like a small thing, but it does come up all the time. It ensures automations are useful for years and years, long after the folks who defined it move on. It's a rule we follow and perhaps one all software professionals should follow. Now, if we could only think of a better name for this "Golden Rule." It looks like that name's already taken.

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