Computers used to be monstrous, slow and cumbersome. Big mainframes took
up entire rooms. For every simple calculation made by the computer, someone
had to flip a switch. To enter a single piece of data, someone else had to
slip a punch card into the computer.
But that's not all it took to maintain the machine. Someone had to find
and sort the punch cards. A filing clerk would receive a list of cards that
were needed to enter data. The clerk would spend five days pulling out all
the cards. The cards were used and the clerk would then spend the next five
dreary days re-filing the same punch cards.
Computers don't require people to do these humdrum jobs anymore. They're
being used to get rid of all kinds of repetitive, manual tasks that people
used to do in the workplace.
Automation consultants introduce computers into offices to help people
do their work more efficiently. This might include selecting the type of computer
the workers will need, selecting what kinds of programs will be helpful or
actually designing a program.
"Whatever clients are doing manually, I make a suggestion to do it using
the computer system," says automation consultant Greg Seo.
This could mean helping with their accounting, setting up a new system
to check inventory or setting up a system to help serve customers.
Automation consultants inspect the site to find out how to make it operate
more efficiently and to make the work more enjoyable. Sometimes they figure
out how to implement an idea the boss has. On other occasions, the company
won't have any idea of what needs to be automated and asks the automation
consultant to design a complete plan.
"I talk to people, trying to find out what wastes most of their time and
develop something to match," says automation consultant Mark Fleeson.
Although most workplace design and programming is done at the consultant's
office, automation consultants visit many different places while working.
They travel to the offices that they're going to automate. If it's a big project,
the consultant could go to this building several times.
Consultants also travel to meet with potential clients. And if the job
involves selecting new computers or software, the consultant makes trips to
Automation consultants have to have a good understanding of computers and
enjoy learning about new software as it hits the market.
You also need to be able to work with people. "You need a good understanding
of people and their work practices," says Fleeson.
And it helps if you're a quick learner. "You need the ability to pick up
new technology very quickly and be able to teach others how to use that technology,"
Being a good consultant means being able to make tough decisions. "It takes
a lot of time before you receive a penny from a client, so you have to make
a judgment in the first meeting," says Seo.
You have to decide whether you think this person will be an agreeable client
and will pay you for your service. In order to maintain a good relationship
with your client, it's important to write every request down on paper.
Make sure your intentions are clear. Being organized will go a long way
in helping your clients see what great changes you could bring to their office.
Consultants generally work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Independent contractors can
set their own hours.
"I sometimes come in late or go early, but it evens out," says Fleeson.
"If I have an urgent requirement, then I sometimes work overtime."
Automation consulting requires more than sitting at a computer designing
software programs. "You have to be able to climb around the catwalks and so
forth at a manufacturing plant," says automation consultant Asa Williams.
However, this doesn't mean that a physically challenged person can't do the
"An individual could work with a consulting firm as a subcontractor who
would only do office development," Seo says.