downward spiral

When New Technology Causes Productivity to Plummet

Technology is expected to enhance productivity

Most business cases for technology investments include “productivity gains.” Even when no formal business case is created or communicated, users, managers, and executives implicitly expect that new technology will make their lives better.

However, many organizations spend money on technology as if it were a lottery ticket—hoping they will win. We could consider technology investments to be calculated risks, but, unfortunately, that just doesn’t seem to be the case. Most investments in tech turn into mechanical implementation projects that result in more complaints than compliments.

The most common complaint about technology from the user community is that it kills productivity, exactly the KPI it aims to improve. There are two reasons:

  1. Underutilization
  2. Poor maintenance and support

new tech held back by underutilization poor maintenance

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Underutilization of technology holds you back

I love the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (and not just because my initials are MVP!). It is an awesome way to get new technology in the door and start a continuous improvement program that will extract true value from the investment. While most organizations strive to implement (or sometimes simply install) an initial version of new technology, they lack discipline required to conduct an effective continuous improvement campaign.

Underutilization is an easy trap to fall into. One example is when vendors “bundle” multiple modules or components of their solutions. I have seen many organizations pay maintenance and support for ERP modules they have never used. Another painful example is when employees can’t install company email accounts on their smart phones. The company cites security risks as reasons for the limitation, but it limits employees’ productive hours only to those spent in the office.

Most new technology implementations focus on completing the project on-time and on-budget. There is no emphasis on adoption. Realization of benefits is left to a continuous improvement program. But there are all sorts of reasons why continuous improvements either don’t progress fast enough, or stall outright:

  • Additional funding is needed
  • People are busy working on urgent priorities
  • No one steps up to champion the effort
  • Security concerns

In the end, regardless of why the features are not utilized, the result is always the same—improperly used features cause productivity losses.

Maintenance and support help you hum along

Cliff Cree, CIO of Horizon Media, gave me a tour of their headquarters recently. It is a very impressive facility in New York City, where the space is organized in a way that enables creativity and productivity. Open spaces, collaboration areas, design, and equipment were all top notch. However, the most exciting office feature I saw was what they call “Nexus Rooms.”

Similar to a Genius Bar in an Apple Store, these are live support functions for any type of equipment, application, database, or other technology used by employees. If you work at Horizon Media and have a technology issue, you don’t log a help desk ticket and wait for a support person to ask you if you tried rebooting. You walk over to a Nexus Room, get your issue resolved, and never miss a beat.

When maintenance and support for technology are effective, the technology is an enabler of productivity. Otherwise, technology becomes a hurdle.

Gaining productivity from new technology requires focus

Eventually, after a technology has been around for a while, most organizations figure out how to utilize it properly and optimize the support process. At that point, however, the organization has gone through a significant dip in productivity, not to mention weekend heroics and frustrations.

To avoid the dip in productivity, organizations need to allocate resources to achieve full utilization of new technology, as well as effective maintenance and support for it.

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