Mar 26, 2013

An Exampel of A Successful Automation

The focus of my previous post previous post about manual processes and their automation was on the applications included in MS Office. However, the key points are applicable to processes involving all sort of software packages.

As promised, I will provide some examples for a successful automation of a manual process. Here's the first.

As a young scientist working on modeling fast processes in nuclear reactors I used a Fortran-based model that loaded input data from external files and produced enormous output. So I had to load the parameters in a file, run the model with it, wait for 2 to 6 hours and then take the few megabytes output and scroll endlessly to extract the pieces of data I needed and then start to analyze the outcomes, adjust the model and parameters and produce some insights and reports for the customer. Actually, it was bit more complex than it sounds! So, after a month doing everything by hand, I decided that it is a total waste of my time. I had some programing skills and some knowledge of what could be achieved with piece of code so I read few help files, asked around and automated some part of the process. I did not have the skills for the other part so I asked a friend Pavel Bonev, a brilliant programmer, to help me out. He quickly produced the piece of code I needed and I covered the full cycle. After putting everything together I had a set of tools to run generate few input files, automatically run the model with them in sequence and finally extract the data I needed for my research. My daily routine became much different - I was spending the better part of the day analyzing the data, reading and all other stuff a good researcher does. The mundane and time consuming operations were done for my during the night or weekend. My job suddenly became much more fun.

You see some of the key points here - I had an idea what is possible, then searched and applied a solution. It was probably not the best solution but it worked perfectly for me for a negligible price of some time and few beers shared with my friend.

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