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UK productivity puzzle: is modern IT the missing piece?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

A new ONS report has revealed that Britain’s productivity levels are 22 per cent lower than expected, having experienced a tiny 0.3 per cent annual increase since 2008 on average – the Royal Statistical Society describes this as “statistic of the decade”. In 2018, the country experienced its most dramatic drop since the Industrial Revolution, with productivity 20 per cent below its pre-2008 levels. These are more than mere numbers, think of their practical implications which include holding back wage growth and even impacting living standards.

Likely the result of political change, a testing financial climate and the trials posed by an increasingly digital world combined, the UK productivity puzzle cannot afford to remain unresolved if Britain hopes to preserve its relevance on the global business stage. The pressure is on for the government to provide organisations with the right tools to turn the situation around.

The challenges at hand

The plans and negotiations surrounding the UK’s departure from the European Union naturally continues to cause business uncertainty, and is likely to have contributed to the decline in enterprise technology investments. Empowering UK organisations to upgrade and modernise ageing IT infrastructure is the first step to avoiding inefficiency at an operational level and preventing output-per-worker from plummeting.

Another obstacle standing in the way of productivity is, without a doubt, the lack of labour currently characterising British business: 72 per cent of businesses struggled to source the right staff last year, while 64 per cent of CIOs lamented a shortage of tech talent.

The repercussions of this talent crisis were reported last October, when more than 80 per cent of UK companies told the Confederation of British Industry that the lack of skills was harming the country’s competitiveness. This demonstrates the need for strategic adoption of future-proofed IT systems to effectively support over-stretched teams and boost productivity.

Unification and automation for increased efficiency

Technology’s key purpose is to streamline, facilitate and fast track business activity. However, this is made challenging by the multitude of IT processes fragmented in siloes throughout IT teams and organisational structures, causing slow response times and limited collaboration. If separate teams aren’t working collaboratively, tasks can be repeated unnecessarily, uninformed decisions can be made and efficiency can end up penalised. Conversely, a complete picture of digital operations, enabled by cross-team communication, can help IT leaders identify improvement areas and help teams be more productive.

Eliminating siloes and practicing ‘unified IT’ can also ensure new technologies designed to maximise efficiency in the face of IT complexity can work as intended, with maximum results. Take IT automation for example: it’s a valuable tool that can be used to reduce the pressure faced by IT staff and improve productivity, but automating siloed, flawed processes that don’t serve real business needs is simply counterproductive. That’s why IT teams must take a step back and pinpoint the real purpose of business processes before automating them. Cleansing IT of the small, time-consuming tasks – such as highly manual processes and approvals – can lead to immense gains in speed and efficiency.

Streamlined operations for increased speed

A recent survey discovered that UK employees lose an average of 46 minutes per day, or 24 days a year, due to slow, outdated tech. Especially in light of Britain’s present output slump, this is a terrifying data point. Failing to update IT systems greatly hinders productivity as it means simple jobs become incredibly time-consuming. Enhancing productivity also means ensuring processes are carried out as efficiently as possible and with the right tools. IT asset management (ITAM), for instance, is the tracking of the business’ digital resources and it often involves long and tedious procedures that take up far too much of IT staff’s time. Research conducted by Ivanti even suggests that 43 per cent of IT professionals still track their IT assets through spreadsheets. Creating, populating and updating these manually naturally makes ITAM operations infinitely slower than they should be – meaning productivity is negatively affected.

When asked how much time was spent per week reconciling IT assets, 29 per cent said “too long”, while 24 per cent of respondents stated they spend several hours per week on these tasks. Interestingly, 17 per cent of IT professionals reported that they spend “hardly any” time reconciling IT inventories as they have automated their biggest pain points. This naturally enables them to “do more” in less time, freeing up time for more complex tasks and thinking creatively about how to be more productive.

Optimised IT processes empower teams to streamline tasks, focusing on finding new ways to improve operations and enhance efficiency. If the IT infrastructure fails to simplify and fast-track these operations, UK employees are left with no time to innovate, analyse performance and help their companies grow.

IT outage prevention to avoid costly downtime

Ensuring optimal output is only possible with reliable IT infrastructure, which enables staff to work smoothly without unnecessary interruptions. Maintaining this always-on functionality requires prevention and, if necessary, quick resolution of IT outages. These incidents, often caused by antiquated IT infrastructure, not only disappoint customers but cause disruption to IT teams’ activities, turning what could have been minutes – if not hours or days – of fruitful work into frustrating downtime.

Such disturbances have plagued UK organisations in recent years, causing major household names, often in the banking and telco spaces, to face frequent IT failures, which has had a notable impact on their finances and reputation. Ensuring IT systems are appropriately updated would enable British companies to circumvent these risks, safeguard productivity and improve customer satisfaction.

With international excellences leading the way – think of US giants such as Amazon or Denmark-based robotics pioneers – Britain has some catching up to do. But, its cluster of brilliant tech minds and its history of industrial leadership suggests it has the potential to overcome this hurdle. The key is for UK businesses to upgrade their outdated technology – with support from a government that appreciates the importance of propelling companies to digital success – and unlock the impressive levels of productivity, efficiency and innovation they are destined for.

Andy Baldin. Vice President EMEA, Ivanti