Automate your checklists

  • IBM

Thanks to Paul Wade for contributing this insightful piece on Checklist automation. Paul is one of the UK’s leading advisers on Automation and HA.

Do you still rely on paper-based checklists?

Working with a popular retail bank recently I learnt that they had stopped training staff on how to process daily activities via paper. While more than a simple checklist it is an important milestone and speaks to the confidence of their IT systems and business continuity plans. Will the humble checklist fade away, or be replaced by electronic versions also? Maybe, but I still see significant usage of paper-based checklists particularly in IT operations despite there being better ways.

The checklist was introduced by Boeing on October 30th, 1935 (hence National Checklist Day occurs on this day each year). It was a tragic day for Boeing and two crew members who died due to a human slip, no mechanical fault was ever found with the aircraft, flight control Gust Locks had been left open. I categorise this as a slip as opposed to an error because the pilot, co-pilot and chief engineer all knew it should be closed. Closing the lock simply got overlooked, perhaps due to the pressure of the day which was the culmination of 5 years development being unveiled in an expensive air show for the US Army Corps.

Boeing’s response was brilliantly simple and proved to be incredibly reliable, a paper-based checklist to be completed by the pilot before take-off. A simple reminder for the brain that forced a full review of all the critical steps to ensure nothing was forgotten. It was so successful and so easy to implement that, take-off and landing checklists were made mandatory for all pilots in their entire fleet and are still used today throughout aviation. In fact, checklists are widely used in surgery and engineering as well as many other industries and have saved countless lives.

So, Are Checklists Bad?

No. For all the reasons above they serve us well but when I see them being used for daily processing in IT, I’m concerned that set of checks hasn’t been automated. IT Process Automation (ITPA) software is extremely powerful today, more flexible and capable than standard schedulers. I would not advocate replacing checklists in all places, but they require human inputs by their nature and are more time consuming that a fully automated solution. I believe it is time to seriously look at the technology improvements and see where replacing manual checklists does make sense.

Augmented Checklists

Virtual Reality (VR) technology is starting to be deployed in many engineering fields, for example aircraft mechanics which is highly disciplined and takes 3-5 years to fully train a recruit. The Virtual Assistant directs (via headset) an engineer, walking them through the steps that need to be done and seeing what the engineer see’s via camera. This technology enables a recruit to learn faster and complete training in a quarter of the time, that’s an impressive saving however, I’m not convinced it will translate to general IT.

Automating IT Checklists

I don’t believe that VR technology is necessary in IT mainly because it is largely a virtual environment as opposed to physical. Checking status’s, confirming environments, reviewing application availability and so on can all be relatively easily performed. When big engineering has the same level of status feedback and, robots dextrous enough to work in small spaces perhaps we will see automated checks and maybe even maintenance.

Even in highly complex IT environments that may have evolved accidently we still can check on status in a virtual sense. Look again at your critical checks, daily, weekly, night processing, payments, backups, critical business applications and ask yourself if you can automate more checks. You will be rewarded handsomely in terms of productivity, reliability and governance.

If you would like to improve the efficiency of your organisation and would like to speak to Paul to explore your available option please contact us to arrange an initial conversation.

Copyright 2019. All rights reserved Paul Wade. Used with permission from the author.