I am an undergraduate student in my second year of study. During my final semester holiday, I have joined the water quality assessment division in my city to aid me in acquiring my undergraduate research project for my prospective year simultaneously giving me an upper hand with practical experience.

I have however noticed that the log information for water samples is input on paper forms manually to be later filed and stored in physical cabinets. I have also observed that finding a sample and its details can be tedious as one has to manually go through categories like dates sample numbers etc, actions that can be easily achieved at mouse click at the comfort of a desk. Also equipment to achieve this task is present and not usually used.

Fused with my enthusiasm for technology and how it makes fundamentally important processes easier, this has prompted me to make an enquiry to my supervisor on why an electronic system hasn't been put in place to evade the tedious paperwork. Subsequent to this enquiry will be my suggestion to put up an open source one in place for the sake of convenience.

From a conversation with one lab technician at the facility, I know that it is feasible to implement such a system with all possibilities of running electronic and manual systems parallel put to consideration.

I have good relationships with my immediate supervisors and we communicate using weekly and monthly reports where I am allowed to include challenges and recommendations as well. But being an undergrad, my writing is not very good and I fear portraying a sense of being a know it all which is not what I am hoping for as my stay is rooted in the learning process.

My questions now

  • should I go ahead with this recommendation or it is not in my place to make such a contribution as a student?

  • if yes how do I put my writing to ensure I evade the above mentioned circumstance?

Similar experiences with the same or related problems and their solutions will be appreciated.

Edit My question is not about a new employee as pointed out in the possible duplicate being the case that their privileges differ with those of an intern whose primary objective is gaining experience and obtaining research insights.

  • From my own experience, people who are open-minded will listen, otherwise it's useless. If you think your supervisors are open-minded, go for it, if not, don't. There is no real consequences to write down some recommandations. Taking it seriously or not is your supervisors responsabilities. – Gautier C Jun 20 '16 at 13:33
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    This is a question about etiquette at a a non-academic workplace, so it's off topic on Academia. I'll migrate it to The Workplace for you. – ff524 Jun 20 '16 at 13:34
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    Possible duplicate of How can I get co-workers to buy into some of my ideas? – gnat Jun 21 '16 at 18:07
  • @gnat isn't the context different with the internship aspect plus that question is also a duplicate. Or does the site allow such? – Chimango Chisuwo Jun 21 '16 at 20:38
  • @Often87 context looks close enough to me: "I am very new in my workplace and would like to bring up some changes..." – gnat Jun 21 '16 at 20:43

You understand well that as an intern you are pretty much the lowest in the company hierarchy. Anything you suggest will be treated with suspicion by the more experienced "we have always done it that way" crowd.

However, a good way to make people think seriously about your suggestions is by phrasing them as questions and framing the execution as training exercises:

  • "Can you explain to me why we do it all on paper and not electronically?"
  • "Has anyone ever considered to automatize this? Is there a cost/benefit analysis or project plan I could read and why it was rejected? I would find it really interesting."
  • "There isn't? Maybe you would like me to make one, just to better understand the organization of the company?"
  • "Do you have any feedback for the project plan I wrote? Anything that indicates the conclusion that it would be beneficial could be wrong?"
  • "You can't find anything wrong? Then why aren't we doing it? Who would we need to ask to do it? Why don't we send it to them already?"

Also, keep in mind that changing organizations is hard. Do not assume your attempts won't face any resistance from those used to the old process, even when it seems irrational. To overcome that resistance you will require a commitment from people higher up the food chain. There is a difference between "not being against it", "supporting it" and "actively doing something to make it happen even against resistance". When you want this to go anywhere, you need them to get to the latter state. That means they might want to take credit for it.

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    I think this is a bit pushy. Don't ask them to explain or justify why a systems has not yet been put in place. – paparazzo Jun 20 '16 at 14:23
  • Changing organizations is hard. Very true, and something for OP to keep in mind. – bluescores Jun 20 '16 at 16:05
  • @Paparazzi When you want to change an organization you need to be more than just "a bit" pushy. – Philipp Jun 20 '16 at 16:55
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    So if you are lowest in the company hierarchy you should get pushy to get things done? My experience is respectful seems to get more. – paparazzo Jun 20 '16 at 16:59
  • The real question for me is OP can make a suggestion, now can he implement it himself? If there's a long-standing process, literally no one is going to change it if OP doesn't have something other than a narrative in his back pocket, i.e. "We could do this so much better electronically but someone else can execute." – CKM Jun 20 '16 at 18:22

Change is not fast in city facilities both at a technical and social level. I doubt there is an open source that precisely meets their needs. Still it would take time an money to implement. Yes proceed but appreciate even a small application takes longer than most people estimate.

I would start with outlining the current paper based system. Do some calculations on time for manual tasks. Put in an estimate for how many times those tasks are performed.

It appears if this is automated x number of hours can be saved a week.

Is there a reason this cannot be automated? Is there a requirement for paper?

If that goes well ask if you can participate in designing a computer application to replace it and develop and cost estimate to implement.

  • I agree with the analysis of the current manual system as sometimes change is not necessary, I'd up vote if I had higher reputation but all the same thank you very much for your contribution. – Chimango Chisuwo Jun 21 '16 at 7:46

Process improvements can be one of the largest challenges an organization will have to face. Especially if the current process is so ingrained that no one can even explain why they follow it.

Don't worry about giving your perspective as a student/temporary/subordinate/greenhorn/non-employee. If you see something worth note, it's worth sharing. Especially if we can improve roles or increase monetary savings. Personally, I love when our processes are shared with fresh eyes. Their kool-aid free perspective will often unearth a means to make our job easier. Every year we get a few summer students, and their questions have led to implementing changes that improve our whole workflow.

If the format of the recommendation is a conversation:

Because you have a good relationship with your superiors, I suggest you discuss your thoughts informally with them. You seem to have a good sense on what's involved, but there may be more to it then you realize.

If you are wanting to provide a written formal recommendation:

Get your facts: I suggest that you get all of your facts down before submitting a formal proposal. This can be done by asking informal questions to people who have been involved with the processes surrounding the physical master file. What are the limitations? what are the benefits?

Do the same with the new system: (time, money, people, maintenance, training, Tech support, troubleshooting, quality of the data, back-ups, gatekeepers, etc). Generally moving a database from paper to digital has a larger front-end cost then companies are willing to invest, so they'll stick with paper. Someone will have to manually input the archived paper files into the computer.

3) present your facts: When you provide the formal proposal, don't concern yourself with the writing. The important thing is to present your research clearly (IE time spent searching in stack vs on the computer). If the idea is brilliant, all you have to do is convey it.

Chances are this is simply a process that was grandfathered in. Some obstacles your proposal may see: resistance to change, lack of technical skills/training (ie typing/computer literacy), little willingness to learn, resources needed to implement. We implemented a digital database for a small aspect of our day-to-day, and users opted to stick to paper in binders on their desk.



Quick tip:When in doubt, it is always more polite to ask leading questions ("Would this be better?") rather than asserting that you have a better solution. There may be good reasons the idea wouldn't work well in this case, or changing to it might cost more than they can afford right now.

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