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Productivity – operational dream or individual reality?

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Are there benefits resulting from an investment in wireless or remote access technology in addition to direct financial return? Many companies recognise the importance of increased competitive advantage, and enhancing the value of previous investments, but far fewer perceive the value of user acceptance.

This is disappointing as many other benefits, including individual productivity will be greatly compromised by employees who are resentful or have not bought into the use of new technologies or processes. A little early consultation might also identify other problems that can be fixed before purchase or deployment.

Technology is often expected to make improvements in productivity – either changes that directly impact the individual or the overall operational efficiency – and this is no less the case for wireless and mobile communications. Why then do only half of UK businesses employ a formal process to measure productivity of new mobility projects, and why aren’t others doing their best to ensure that the broader benefits are realised by getting users involved early?

Any investment in a business needs to generate a financial return. Most UK businesses expect this to be over 12-18 months for a typical IT project, but this period lengthens slightly for wireless and remote access projects. Why a longer period? Some of the technology might be a little more complex or unfamiliar, but the difficulty in measuring the changes to individuals’ working lives and the broader impact on business processes are the more likely causes.

Neither individual nor organisational productivity are easy to measure, as the costs and benefits beyond the simple financial return on the capital expenditure in the solution are difficult to quantify. For example, are office workers more productive if they are able to communicate when out of the office, and does this also improve responsiveness? This is unlikely to have a direct impact on profits or costs, but may improve customer or employee satisfaction. It may be harder to measure for the bottom line, but just as valuable to the business.

The challenge is made more difficult by the different agendas of specific roles; line of business managers seeking operational improvements, financial controllers looking to reduce costs, and IT managers trying to look beyond day to day fire fighting and dreaming of innovation and new technologies to add value to the business.

Users are looking to cut out tedious paperwork, reduce unnecessary commuting, and get some more control over their own time. Not so much work/life balance, more like plain old effective time management. Something that supports them along this path will encourage them to be more productive. If it is a solution they buy into, so much the better.

There is an acknowledged fear that employees will become resentful of the intrusion of mobile and remote working technologies as they take work home, and will feel they are working longer hours. Some employers will see this as the extra productivity they were hoping for, but this is unlikely to be the case.

Employee attitude is vital to realising any improvements in productivity. Well motivated employees will always try to get the best out of anything that might help them improve their working day, but poorly motivated ones may rebel, fool around and squander any efficiency gains.

Mobile and remote working might require some major changes in the way employees can be supervised and managed day to day, but it does little to change the basic principles of good management. Have clear objectives, communicate them well, consult early, get buy-in, monitor and use positive reinforcement appropriate to the results. Good for the individual and good for the organisation.

Details on the responses to a survey of mobile productivity in UK businesses and further analysis can be found in the "Productivity or Pain" and "Users and Applications" reports which are freely available for download from the Quocirca website.

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