Man AND Machine, not Man vs. Machine


Man AND Machine, not Man vs. Machine

September, 2023
Brian Wolff


Our long search has finally ended. We have been looking for an individual to own the training role for more than a year. Until now, we’ve relied on binders and shoulder-to-shoulder training, and honestly, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. But the scale of the problem requires us to rethink our brute force approach and bring in a person to drive nuance and finesse into our tools and systems. And that got me thinking about people vs. systems or, more specifically, the power of people AND systems!


The truth is we have several people vs. machines conversations going on inside our business these days. My guess is you’re having these debates, as well, as parking gets more complicated by the day, not less, with each new system introduced to make parking “easier.”


I believe we’re all struggling with the same question: When there’s work to be done, do you throw bodies at it or technology? And therein lies the trap. It’s not really an either-or, but the correct levels of each to achieve a “frictionless” equilibrium. What are the factors that bring man vs. machine into balance?


The first thing that comes to mind is the nuance and context necessary to do the job. One advantage of relying on human resources is their ability to apply contextual knowledge. In complex problem domains, context plays a crucial role in understanding and addressing underlying issues. Humans can consider various factors, including social, cultural and historical aspects, which  may not be easily comprehended by machines. 


Furthermore, humans excel in areas where subjective judgment and ethical considerations are essential, such as making value-based decisions or handling delicate interpersonal conflicts. The catch is humans have all kinds of quirks like biases, inconsistencies and limitations. As a result, the 21st century has accelerated our ability to apply technology and build tools that can help us overcome these quirks.


That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to train frontline people to handle every customer situation deftly. And why “the customer is always right” is some of the best advice you can give your less seasoned people. We’re all looking for ways to introduce tools and systems to help humans get through problems quickly and focus on the goal. 


The use of tools and systems in problem-solving can hold several advantages. Machines and tools can handle repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing up human resources to focus on higher-level thinking and strategic decision-making. Tools can process and analyze data with greater accuracy, potentially uncovering hidden trends or correlations that humans might overlook. Tools and systems can also be the repository of repetitive information to remove the burden of remembering from the human.


A wise man once told me he uses his phone to remember and his brain to think. The same can go for systems and tools. They can be the “phone” or the way to collect and organize information that humans can easily retrieve and execute the same process consistently for many different scenarios. 


This brings us back to finding the
equilibrium. Optimal  problem-solving  strategies involve striking a balance between human resources and tools. Rather than considering them as competing approaches, organizations should view them as complementary forces. Integrating human expertise with the power of tools can unlock greater problem-solving potential at scale.


To get there, one might consider adopting a human-centric approach that leverages tools as enablers. My colleague at the start-up I co-founded used the straightforward approach of encouraging us to perform the task with humans optimally first and then find ways to automate pieces where possible. There’s no better example of this in parking than PARCS equipment or phone-based payment systems at meters. 


Human problem solvers can provide critical input during tool development, ensuring the technology aligns with their unique needs and context. Continuous training and upskilling programs can help human resources adapt to and embrace technological advancements, increasing their effectiveness through tools and systems.  


This brings us back to training. No system or tool can be implemented into an organization without thinking carefully about how to train humans to use it. Because everyone learns differently, our training staff will need to be just as good at engaging humans and delivering the information in ways that can be digested and applied consistently. 


Those who think machines will replace humans only have the answer 1/3 right, because machines have been making our lives easier for years. But it still takes the intellectual horsepower that only a human can deliver to design it and put the rubber on the road with perfect balance. It won’t be easy, but then again, neither is parking. And that hasn’t stopped us before!

Article contributed by:
Brian Wolff
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