Tech.Maven: Closing the gap between business and IT

Productivity is one of those things that is easy to define, yet almost impossible to determine. In mathematical terms it concerns a ratio between the quantity of output and the amount of effort to deliver it. As both can be defined in financial terms – an output has a financial value, and effort comes at a cost – it is straightforward to calculate a productivity factor. If it remains above 1, then things are looking good.

If only things were that simple. As anyone knows who has worked in an office environment, the daily routine is a far cry from simple questions about time spent and outputs created. Business processes can be complex at best, and even in relatively structured environments like call centres, unexpected events and inconveniences can scupper even the best measurement plans. Meanwhile the number of different ways of doing things – aided and abetted by an increasingly fragmented set of technologies – means that sometimes, even choosing the most appropriate presentation technique, communications mechanism or staged approach becomes a process in itself.

Against this background, in IT circles some still have the audacity to say that this or that new technology has the potential to increase productivity; the rest of us go along with it without being absolutely sure what was meant, or indeed, whether it were true in any case. The gulf between squeaky-clean theory and chaotic reality becomes quickly apparent when people think about their own working environments. For example, consider the challenge many face dealing with the fire hydrant of email messages: any potential for increased efficiency would almost immediately vanish, as there is always more email than there is time.

While setting a gold-standard definition for productivity may be impossible, in a recent <a href=”http://www.freeformdynamics.com/fullarticle.asp?aid=1367″>report</a> analyst firm Freeform Dynamics has identified a number of factors that have an influence on the overall figure. Top of the list by a short head, above general criteria around efficient working and collaboration, is ensuring that people have the information they need to do their jobs, when they need it.

Information delivery is by no means the only factor but it is compelling to drill into, particularly given the benefits that technology professes to bring in this area (this is the information revolution, after all). Remarkably, only a third of respondents to the survey felt that their organisations were competent in this area – nearly half felt they were doing badly. This begs the question – is productivity seen as important at all? Perhaps it’s not so big a deal, but that wouldn’t make mathematical, or indeed financial sense. After all, time is money. Far more likely is that the situation is too difficult to understand, and the potential solutions too complex, to do anything about it.

In other words businesses are beset with productivity difficulties, with no clear way to do anything about them. Frustration is perhaps inevitable, both at senior management level and among rank and file. Which brings to consumerisation, that most horrible of words, which describes the phenomenon of staff using non-business-supplied kit and online service to do their jobs. In complex areas like this, perceptions are as important as reality.

So the fact from the above report, that more people see consumerisation as having a positive impact on productivity, than having a negative impact, is a telling statistic. As is the finding from another Freeform Dynamics research study on consumerisation, that the net-net productivity gain can, in reality, be marginal. “Distraction and time wasting can sometimes offset any potential efficiency gains,” writes CEO and lead researcher on the report, Dale Vile.

While the gains may not always outweigh the costs, at least it puts more (perceived) control in to the hands of individuals, relieving what can be very real frustration. There is plenty more in the report about how to minimise the risks while increasing the likelihood of improved productivity, but perhaps the most important point it makes is how consumer-oriented business practices from technology vendors are no small part of the problem. “As time goes on we expect at least some providers of consumer equipment and internet services to become more business-friendly; indeed this is already starting to happen,” says Dale Vile.

In other words, while technology users may increase their own productivity by using their own kit, downsides of distraction and operational overhead remain works in progress. Even as they are addressed, we can only hope that a thought is spared for what really constitutes productivity, and that genuine innovation around how to deliver innovation, increase worker efficiency and improve collaboration takes place in a way that significantly outweighs the continuing downsides. Having had over 4 decades of research and development, by this stage IT should be doing better than this.

Tech.Maven: Closing the gap between business and IT

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