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Automation is no replacement for management

Mistakes can happen, as they did in the case of german retailer Quelle. Now a court has ruled that Quelle must pay for those mistakes – not because the mistakes were made in the first place, but because Quelle failed to apply appropriate process management methods. For those unfamiliar with the company, it is the largest homeshopping enterprise in Europe with an annual turnover of 2.9 billion euros.

What happened was that in 2007 Quelle offered flatscreen TV-sets in their online shop for 199 euros ($ 280) instead of 1.999 euros ($ 2.800). Customers were quick to pick up on the opportunity and ordered a sizable number of TV sets. After noticing their mistake, Quelle wrote a formal letter to the customers some weeks later, acknowledging the mistake and declaring the offer null and void.

Customers took Quelle to court, which has now ruled that Quelle must deliver the goods at the original price because (slightly paraphrasing): “…while there is a precedent that honest mistakes can lead to a transaction being declared invalid, Quelle had failed to properly manage their fully automated order handling process. At the very least, they could have halted the system or pulled the plug. Instead they let the processes run for a further two weeks even after noticing their mistake.”

What do we learn from this?

- Don’t only rely on automation,

- augment it with appropriate process management methods,

- define proper rules for process managers that don’t only cover system functionality but also address process results,

- responsibility and accountability should play equal parts in process management jobs and should address clearly defined processes,

- don’t design your processes for the sunshine case only – also look at process risk management issues.

Remember, this is not a case in which the process didn’t work or the IT didn’t do its job. It’s a case of failing to control, manage and orchestrate (in this case, stop the process, inform customers, take the offer offline) the available processes. dw4bthspen

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