How Techno-Optimists Can Jump-Start Productivity in 2017

In his recent “Techno wars” column in The Economist, John Schumpeter discussed a well-argued risk to the world economy—stagnating productivity.

Global productivity grew strongly between 1990 and 2007, just when technology was exploding in the workplace. Since then, however, technology in the workplace – and workplace productivity – have lagged.

According to his article, factors such as faltering education systems, overregulation of business, and aging populations threaten to undermine the business advancement that technology  divided between islands of high productivity surrounded by a vast ocean of stagnation.

One of the major obstacles to productivity is that we’re still stuck in a decades-old way of doing work. We’re still using the same tools to get work done. Most work processes aren’t automated — instead, they rely on a flurry of emails to coordinate.

Manual methods, such as email, continue to dominate workplace services vs. consumer services that rely on automation. Click for source

Manual methods, such as email, continue to dominate workplace services vs. consumer services that rely on automation.

In fact, a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that found that productivity growth has accelerated at “frontier” companies, which use the most efficient processes and technology, as reported in the Wall Street Journal series on “The Innovation Paradox.” Think of Amazon and Uber.

Today most companies still use technology to reinforce existing work practices, rather than redesigning processes to take advantage of technological advances. Many companies follow a tech refresh every three years, but what about a business process refresh to go along with it?

The power to fix the productivity problem exists today, and it’s already widely used in areas such as IT. Here’s how you can start on that path:

  • Eliminate or automate the repetitive administrative tasks that take inordinately longer for the protectors of the status quo. Just consider this: 90% of managers say that automating their work processes would make them more efficient.
  • Tie individual and departmental performance metrics to larger work project outcomes.
  • Encourage candid conversations on how to improve work tasks with transparent reporting.
  • Expose how individual and departmental innovation benefits the larger enterprise.
  • Celebrate small innovations to keep those great employees.

CIOs need to to drive a disciplined transformation to reverse the rise of Schumpeter’s vast ocean of stagnation, and connect the islands of productivity before those employees flee to work for someone else. Today’s CIOs must embrace both innovative technology and re-engineered processes to keep the modern enterprise from sinking itself.

Enterprises need to ask what they could achieve with an extra 2000 highly skilled employees – and whether administrative activities are the best use of these resources.

Enterprises need to ask what they could achieve with an extra 2000 highly skilled employees – and whether administrative activities are the best use of these resources.

While that task may seem daunting, the future has never looked more promising:

“There has been a burst of innovations recently, especially in artificial intelligence, that we will see come to fruition in the next five to 15 years,” predicts Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You can easily imagine that as these come to maturity and pervade the economy, the effects will be staggering.”

Christopher Mims at the Wall Street Journal agrees that those advances will set off a domino effect: “…a long trail of empirical evidence shows that the increased productivity brought about by automation and invention ultimately leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, increased consumer spending power and ultimately, more jobs.”

Intelligent automation spurs productivity. That’s why I’m excited for 2017. I’m a techo-optimist.

For more info on how to inject productivity into your business and roadmap, visit the Inspire site. Read more about why workplace productivity is lagging in Today’s State of Work: The Consumer-Enterprise Technology Gap.

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Michael Hubbard
Michael Hubbard is an advisor to executives of the largest firms in the world on obtaining value from enterprise software and technology. As the global vice president for ServiceNow Inspire, he spearheads growth of the second company in history to achieve $1B in software‑as‑a‑service subscription revenue. Hubbard served as a global vice president at VMware, a cloud technology innovator as they grew from $800m to over $6B in revenue. He helped the company’s most transformative and successful customers to attain cloud computing and IT‑as‑a‑service outcomes. Previous to that, he served in various application leadership roles with Oracle after delivering multi‑year enterprise‑wide customer consulting engagements with SAP, EDS, and ATKearney. Hubbard holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from University of Illinois, and certifications in technology and program delivery from Stanford University, SAP, Oracle, and VMware.

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