The automated system suddenly shut off, and the pilots were left surprised, confused and ultimately unable to fly their own plane.
In a much less serious way, it got me thinking about the tools I’ve made for work. Nothing is so critical that its failure will dump the paper into the ocean but there are things that we rely on to get the paper out every day, including scripts to:
- Make the InDesign page files
- Set the weather forecast
- Fix common problems in reporters' copy
- Scrape football match listings and results
- Format phone numbers
- Export files ready for the printers and the web
- Automatically upload a day’s worth of PDFs to our archive contractor
Most of this stuff could be done by hand. Most of it is pretty straightforward. The risk isn’t really in the automation breaking, but in the automation breaking and having no-one to fix it.
We don’t hire for the skills to do these things, and the complexity of our workflow has changed with the technical ability of individual staff members.
I don’t know how best to cope with this. If, say, I get hit by a bus tomorrow, what do other people need to know? What things wouldn’t even occur to them that they need to know about?