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Automation is the new Black

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I’ve been toying with the idea of automating a set of diagnostic scripts that I run on customer sites, when doing my checkup. It mirrors the automation that a lot of consulting shops do, but when I run them, I like to spend more time with the customer explaining what each script does and why it only forms a small part of a big picture.

That way, when I present my findings, a lot of the key points have already been covered, and it’s extremely effective (and comforting) to see a customer understand instantly what I’m referring to and ask questions relating directly to that issue.

Although I call that “face time”, it’s more accurately described as “side time” because the customer is sitting beside me, watching me run scripts and dump the results into Excel, talking a lot, speaking with my hands, and so on. Numbers start to blur and they stop caring about what is obviously a very important problem if I’m being paid to figure it out.

It does get a bit overwhelming for the customer, though, especially if they aren’t technically inclined. This is obviously not an efficient use of our time.

So I’m changing things up a little from my side. I’ve figured out how to automate the diagnostics in such a way that I can let them run for about 15 minutes in total (automation means I don’t have to run them in sequence, I can run them all at the same time with a random delay), and once they’re done, produce what is effectively a highlight reel.

Then I can use the rest of the hour to go through these results and explain, using graphs if necessary, the most interesting things I can see. Normally the customer has to wait as long as a day until I produce a 16- to 20-page document, but this way they can see things almost instantly, and if there’s something important to discuss, we can do it immediately.

My consulting style is very conversational (much like this blog), because I want my customer to understand, if not in the same detail as I do (though a significant percentage do), at least what to look for when troubleshooting performance problems and identifying issues with maintenance and disaster recovery planning.

For competitive reasons I can’t disclose my full methodology (I still have to eat!), but I thought I would share some consulting mindshare for a change.