Is automation good for us is a question that is regularly rearing its head now and then. While many argue that increasing usage of IT in our daily lives has not just increased our productivity, but in general has made quality of our lives better. I don't agree though. It would be extremely naive of me, however, to completely deny any benefits of automation in our day-to-day existence. True, it has made life easier and smoother in many instances, but it's best to remember the removal of the human touch (which IT tends to do) has often proved to be not so beneficial. What's however worse is excessive automation, and thereby creating an extremely process-driven existence, has more than often banished common sense. Nothing illustrates this better than in the developed countries, where excessive automation often does just that-we may lament in India that many of our ills are due to lack of processes, but it would be prudent to remember that in many cases it's better to be less process-driven.
As I write this column from a lovely hotel facing the Potomac river harbor in a cold winter Washington, this long preamble was to prepare you about how odd it is become slaves to processes. I arrived in this lovely riverfront hotel after more than a 24-hour journey from half-way across the world; understandably, I was tired, but resisting the jet lag, I still went out on a night walk in the harbor area. Returning late night with the only idea to crash immediately, I went up sixteen floors all the way to my room to find the keys not working (how I dream of those old steel keys before these electronic chip-based cards came which often don't work). The hotel number not in my phone, I had to come down all the way to the reception-and the guy there coolly recharged the keys when told about the problem. Next, I go up again sixteen floors and find the door still not opening to the keys. Vexed, I come down again-even as I start losing patience, the reception guy assures me he has entered the problem in his system; I can now go up and expect a maintenance guy to reach my room in five minutes. Well, he asks me for a photo identity too-that's part of his process-you see. Telling him that my passport is inside the room only and I can show it only if he unlocks it, he wisely nods and ask again for a photo identity ('That's the process, you see').
Now, I come up sixteen floors again and whhhopsse,,,there's no one there even after waiting for half an hour. Now really scathing with anger and at my final physical tether, I come down again (with murder in my eyes) to be told that he has entered the problem in the system. After a sharp riposte to him that the problem might have entered the system, but I have not been able to enter my room, I gave it there to all in the reception, the complete Indian style. After the verbal volleys from me with a threat to let me meet the hotel manager, the guy from the reception walks up with me all the sixteen floors and opens the room with, you would not believe, a hefty KICK. Yes, a good old Desi kick, when I have been doing the round of sixteen floors up and down for nearly an hour.
Just if you thought the indictment of over-reliance on process ends here, just listen to this post-script. Next night when I return to my room, I get a full tray of assorted dry fruits with an apology message from the hotel manager “Expressing sorrow about inconveniences I had to suffer, they don't do business this way...blah, blah and please to accept the token complimentary gift.” On closer inspection, I found the apology addressed to John Bailey, and not to Rajneesh De. I am since then living in an identity crisis. Thanks to processes.