We live in an era where technology permeates almost every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Can you recall the last time you went a whole day without using a smartphone? Can you think of an example of a job role where the power of the computer is not used in some way? Would you be irritated if it took longer than five minutes to get hold of some information you wanted to access online? We have well and truly become an ‘always-on’ generation which expects everything to be done quickly and with minimum hassle, and technological developments happening at breakneck speed has become a given.
With so many resources at our disposal, it would be sensible to see this technology revolution as heralding a new era for workplace productivity, with the accessibility of mobile and rapidly increasing connection speeds meaning that people can do their jobs more efficiently than ever before. However, the UK continues to struggle when it comes to being as productive as possible, and continues to lag behind its contemporaries in Europe and beyond in this area. Technology can be a double-edged sword, in the sense that it can also be a distraction if it is not used in the right way. Many businesses are failing to harness its true power because, somewhat ironically, its potential is being missed by leaders who are already tasked with managing lots of technology.
For this to change, there are countless things that need to be done in terms of how organisations are managed, and how staff are empowered to work in a manner that encourages maximum productivity while maintaining positive morale. IT teams need to step up in the pursuit of this objective, given the ubiquity of technology in the modern workplace. With this in mind, the IT department needs to take steps to be more dynamic and innovative in its focus, and ensure that the initiatives it leads are designed to drive the wider goals of the business.
The productivity puzzle
According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in early April, UK productivity rose 0.7 per cent in the final three months of 2017, with the third quarter figure revised up to 1 per cent. Together, these represent the strongest growth since the second half of 2005. On the surface, this marks a positive change from the doom and gloom that has been a fixture of productivity reports since the financial crisis of 2008.
However, these updates should also be taken with a pinch of salt. When reporting on the figures, the ONS warned that, as productivity is measured on an output per hour basis, this increase was driven largely by a reduction in average hours worked. On top of this, revised estimates of labour productivity in the G7 countries show that the UK continues to play catch-up with other major economies, with the UK figure for 2016 sitting 16.3 per cent below the G7 average.
While it is always a promising sign to see productivity growth of any kind, the reality is that there is still much for us in the UK to do before we can truly say we have solved the productivity puzzle. Some progress has been made, but the next phase has to emphasise the implementation of dynamic and innovative new business practices if any growth is to be maintained. This is where the role of the IT department will be especially crucial.
Technology has brought a wide range of benefits in terms of enhancing our ability to access information and carry out our daily activities in an efficient manner. While there are numerous positives to take from this, this pace of change places significant demands on IT and the organisations it supports. In order to meet these challenges, continuing evolution in the IT department is essential.
Traditionally, IT teams have focused largely on general maintenance and administrative tasks, with their main remit being to operate behind the scenes and keep the wheels at the organisation turning. Evidently, this approach serves an extremely important purpose, as a large-scale IT failure can have a serious impact on a company’s reputation and bottom line.
While this role cannot be discounted, it is also no longer sufficient for IT departments to focus solely on tasks that simply maintain the technological status quo. Instead, they need to use their technical expertise to put comprehensive strategies in place in order to help ensure that productivity growth is accelerated and maintained, and that the organisations they support are able to be agile in the face of rapid change.
A key part of this is making sure that comprehensive learning and development for employees outside of the IT department is considered a priority for IT teams. New tools are pushed out to end users in a bid to increase productivity and the ease with which people can do their jobs, but in order for these tools to be maximised, there has to be a strategy in place which guarantees that IT staff are on hand to provide guidance, and means that no member of staff will be left in the dark when it comes to taking a new process or technology on board.
A driver of innovation
To go beyond its traditional support-based role, IT needs to evolve and develop in a way that has efficiency, dynamism and innovation at its heart, with initiatives created and implemented that aim to help fulfil the company’s wider strategic objectives, whether these be converting more prospects, enhancing brand image or improving customer engagement. Technology should be used in the way that it is designed to be, rather than being shoe-horned into current internal practices and customs.
Essentially, this is about IT leaders using their experience to come up with new, innovative ways of doing things: this could be finding ways to automate cumbersome internal processes, streamlining time-consuming practices, or empowering staff at the front end of the business to serve their customers more efficiently. All of this should be wrapped up in a commitment to empower staff to make the most of these new technologies and methods. With so much of a company’s activities being underpinned by technology and relying on it in order to keep pace with its competitors, there is a huge amount of potential for the IT department to make a difference here.
Such an evolution can only come about if IT decision-makers take time to come up with plans to make their departments more insight-driven, and then make sure these plans are properly communicated and embraced by all relevant parties, regardless of their role or level of seniority. Once this new philosophy has been successfully implemented, staff both within and outside of IT will see consistent efficiency improvements in the long term.
A more productive future
The productivity conundrum is not something that can be solved overnight: it requires input from employees at all levels, from decision-makers responsible for coming up with new initiatives, right down to the employees charged with making them a success. In such challenging times, the companies that embrace innovation will be the ones that come out on top.
IT has to be front and centre in this process, so IT leaders need to do everything in their power to ensure that they are fully involved in decisions that define the activities and successes of the wider business. They then need to use their expertise to become trusted mentors and teachers to the rest of the company. If this can be achieved, organisations stand a much better chance of freeing themselves from the burden of sluggish productivity.
Kevin Timms, CEO, EACS
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