Making I.T. Work: Overcoming Barriers to Office Productivity

Productivity is a key workplace goal, achieved when people, process and systems come together to fill business objectives in the most efficient, cost effective manner possible.  Unfortunately, productivity is not easily obtained, with any number of known barriers (from operational, to financial and political) that may stand in the way.  Of all the tools available to overcome these barriers, end-user technology is probably the most effective.  Read on to learn more.

Technology has changed the modern workplace, making great strides in operational productivity.  To realize every benefit, technology has to be properly implemented and managed on an onging basis.  As an operational unit, the I.T. department is responsible for delivering that goal, ensuring that key systems are continually available, reliable and suited to the needs of the business.  In that role, I.T. must also facilitate the actual use of technology through support, information and training services.  And, above all, I.T. must also ensure that technology solutions are relevant, as easy to use as possible, and always appropriate to the skill levels of the end-user community.

Considering these responsibilities, IT managers need to answer the key productivity questions:

  • Are your end-users aware of all the features and functionality available to them in the hardware and software products they use?
  • Is the technology currently in place being used in the most effective, efficient manner possible?
  • Could any of the technical solutions currently in place be used differently to improve productivity or to solve current operational problems?
  • If so, how can IT act as an agent of productivity improvement within the organization?
  • What are the possible barriers to productivity improvement?

Start with the Productivity Perceptions

As an operational unit, I.T. is responsible for the mechanisms of workplace productivity and for providing the tools by which those mechanisms are used.  If technical productivity is not realized, it may well be viewed as an IT failure.  To avoid that perception, IT must be able to overcome barriers to technical productivity on multiple levels:

Productivity Barriers and The End-Users

The users/recipients of technology and related IT Services, and may be resistant to changes in systems functionality, appearance or performance.  In addition, these same end-users may be less than enthusiastic about IT's role and influence in their daily business operations, preferring to "do IT themselves".

Productivity Barriers and IT Staff

The designated staff responsible to support and service technology and may be more interested in pure technical issues than in the merging of technical priorities with business realities.

Productivity Barriers and Company Management:

The designated executives and managers who may not see the value of technology and IT services to the bottom line.

Take Action To-Do List

Step One:  Identify the source of the productivity barrier.

As noted, barriers to technical productivity can come from many sources, including end-users, IT staff, and company management.  In order to properly manage and respond to these barriers, you need to identify the source.  This will determine your path and ultimate objectives.  For example, end-user barriers can be tackled with added training, or improved customer service, but management barriers require a different level of finesse, and an ability to translate technical solutions into tangible business benefits.

Step Two:  Identify the reason for the productivity barrier.

  • A resistance to change. Change may prove beneficial in the end, but it may not always be welcome at the start. New technology usually involves added training, an initial loss of productivity, and a loss of comfort with procedures and processes that may have become well entrenched in day-to-day business operations.  (Also Read:  Policies for IT Change Control).
  • A lack of time and information.  In order to deliver technical productivity, there must be some agreement amongst the end-users, IT staff and management as to what actually constitutes productivity at any given time.  This takes time and information .... time to review and analyze current systems and procedures, and the information to compare alternatives.  In a busy work environment, this time and information may be in short supply.   (Also Read: The Smart Art of Time Management).
  • The "Not Invented Here Syndrome".  End-users and management may realize the need for productivity improvements, but may resist IT as a source of advice, analysis and implementation.  This resistance may be born out of a mistrust for IT's motives (i.e. replacing people with technology), a lack of faith in IT's abilities or a natural protection of perceived organizational boundaries.

Step 3:  Identify the objectives.

  • Productivity is an ongoing need and a continual process.  But, at times the need for productivity improvements becomes even more obvious and imperative.  As an operational unit, IT may be called upon to analyze and respond to productivity issues on two levels:
  • As an ongoing part of the IT charter to maintain and implement technology for continual productivity improvements.
  • In response to a specific need .... i.e. to change systems or procedures after a major problem or crisis, or to respond to changing business circumstances such mergers, relocations or reorganizations.

Step 4:  Manage the process.

Whether you need tackle productivity issues as part of an ongoing effort for process improvement, or in response to a problem or changing business circumstance, it will be much easier to tackle the issues, and overcome the barriers, if you break the process down into a series of manageable components.

These are the possible "productivity breakdowns" to consider....

  • What is the subject for this productivity review? (hardware, software, IT process or end-user workflow?)
  • Can you describe the process, workflow, or system as it functions today?
  • Is this process, workflow or system used uniformly throughout the organization?
  • If the workflow, process or system is not used uniformly throughout the organization, are there any duplications of similar systems, workflows or processes in use which can be combined to eliminate redundancies?
  • Does this system, workflow or process currently deliver expected results as needed and originally planned?
  • Are there any specific operational issues or problems associated with this workflow, system or process as it is used today?
  • What operational and technical alternatives exist for this current process or system?
  • If any alternatives exist, which alternative offers the most worthwhile improvements considering the costs of change? (i.e. hardware and/or software expenditures, training, and  the loss of initial productivity through a transition period).

Step 5:  Put it all together. 

Productivity analysis and response is a complex process, involving information, understanding and communication.  As you gather and analyze information, you may find that there are barriers to overcome:

  • Start out by identifying the source of the barrier and the reason for the barrier.
  • Allow sufficient time for the productivity analysis laid out above.
  • Focus on the benefits of any new systems, upgraded systems or changes to processes or workflows.
  • Communicate with end-users as often as needed to share information and break down barriers.

Continue with more on this topic with our featured articles Strategic Roadmaps to Informed Decision Making and How to Overcome Analysis Paralysis.

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