BOFH: Adventures in overenthusiastic automation

The Boss really just gave IT a robo-vac army to 'revolutionize' office cleaning

BOFH logo telephone with devil's hornsEpisode 20 "But it'll revolutionize everything!"



"Like what?"

"Like ... uh ... the ability to ... monitor ... um ... how clean things are."

"Which things?"

"I … everything."

"OK, let's park 'everything' for a second. What else does it revolutionize?"

"Well, the cleaning cycle. We'd be able to clean during the day!"

The Boss has it in his mind that IT will drive the implementation of cleaning robo-vacs as a way of reducing our labor costs. One thing that has apparently not been 'revolutionized' is the idea that great savings can be made by axing people whose wages make up the smallest fraction of the Company's outgoings ...

Be that as it may, the Boss's idea is to use "Cloud Technology" to do this, in a "Web Connected" way, "Harnessing the Power of AI" to "Virtualize" the cleaning schedule.

In other words, he's read one of those snail mail "innovative technology" catalogs with a target audience of the aged and/or mentally feeble.

"... and I don't see why not. We've got self-driving cars now," the Boss simpers, at the shooting down of his latest brainwave.

"Self-driving cars are an entirely different thing," I reply.

"No, they're not, they're exactly the same thing, but on a larger scale."

"They're vaguely similar, but you don't sit on a robo-vac."

"I can't see why you're against the idea!"

"Why not nip round the office and ask people how they feel about self-driving equipment?" I suggest.

"OR pop round the building and ask people how they feel about a self-driving equipment," the PFY adds, "and if they like the idea, tell them it definitely won't have a built-in chainsaw – then ask them again."

"I don't get your point."

"People in this building don't much like self-propelled equipment," I say. "It's a long story."

"Nonsense!" he chips back. "It's the way of the future."

"Ah, you mean like the advances made in flying cars in the '80s?"

"Really?" he asks.

"Sure! They retrofitted Ford Granada and it flew almost 500 feet."


"Yes, the main issue they never cracked was changing the flight path from vertical to horizontal. Then they lost the testing site at Beachy Head."

"But you said it was retrofitted?"

"With a boot full of cement. It was a 1980s Granada after all."

"I don't see why we can't TRIAL something," the Boss wheedles. "I'm sure they're USING them at NASA."

"And you feel we're comparable to NASA?" I feel compelled to ask.

"They're surprisingly inexpensive," the Boss pivots. "And they have so many features."

"Features like?" I ask.

"You can program them from your phone."

"And... you see yourself individually programming a swarm of them from your phone?"

"No, they can be integrated into other systems."

"Is one of those systems a woodchipper?" the PFY asks.

"No, I mean our staff could program them."

"Yyyeeeess!!" I gasp – at the possibilities for workplace mayhem. "That would be great!"

"We could flash the chip and probably write a plain-language interface!" the PFY suggests.

"How do you mean?" the Boss asks, no doubt sniffing a patent to steal.

"We give it a vocab of places, i.e. The IT office, Desk, Cupboard, etc. combined with people or groups of people, some action verbs and time contexts. You could say CLEAN UNDER DAVE'S DESK WHEN DAVE IS OUT or CLEAN THE IT OFFICE NEXT WEDNESDAY AT 4PM."

"But maybe other words too – like FIND, so you could FIND USB STICK UNDER MY DESK," I add.

"This sounds great!" the Boss burbles happily.

A trial is duly approved, and a bunch of robo-vacs bought...

It takes about three days for the abuse to begin. Top of the non-cleaning commands is "TAKE THIS MONEY AND FIND ME A COFFEE AT THE CAFETERIA," which the cafe staff love as it's boosting sales and reducing legwork. "TAKE THIS MONEY AND FIND ME A LAGER AT THE PUB ACROSS THE ROAD" occasionally works, but there's a punishingly high attrition rate.

Office tensions are rising in most of the test subjects – mainly due to technicalities like whether Dave's socks count as rubbish, whether Dave himself counts as rubbish, and if the term WHETHER DAVE IS THERE OR NOT is a passive aggressive time context.

There are other problems, too, the most obvious of which is that people have started putting their stuff in places other than the floor. As a general rule it seems people are happier with Dave's socks being under the desk rather than on the desk...

The PFY agreed and has started fitting a QUICKLIME hopper to his vac's base station, so I realize I will have to act fast.

Then one morning, the project is axed with no explanation. The Boss's only comment was that the Beancounters had found another cost center to make savings in.


"I'd only just taught my robo-vac to arrange my shoes in the corner," the Boss snivels.

"I know what you mean," I commiserate. "I'd only just taught mine to FIND A FRESH DOG TURD OUTSIDE AND SMEAR IT UNDER THE HEAD BEANCOUNTERS DESK."


"Well, it was all going to come to no good in the end anyway. The PFY had just fitted a quicklime hopper to the base station of his one – no idea what he was planning with that."

"So you ruined it for everyone."


What will they think of next?

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like