Writing a business case for an IT refresh project is hard. Are you asking for a big pile of money to replace some depreciated assets, or are you enhancing the productivity of your organisation? Is “do nothing” really a viable option? Can you still buy typewriters and message delivery by pigeon? (Actually you can but that’s another story).
The temptation is to create a set of mathematically sound but logically silly measures like this:
- We will make the organisation more productive by making the laptops faster to boot-up
- This will save on average 15 minutes per user per day
- We have 8,000 users who work 225 days per year
- 8,000 x 225 x 15 minutes = 450,000 hours or 56,250 working days, or 250 working years
- At an average salary of £30k this saves the organisation £7.5m
Technology-led organisational transformation can be a powerful agent for change. Here are a few of the real-world benefits we’ve seen when this is done well.
- Users can work anywhere
The concepts of “flexible working” or “mobile working” are often more palatable ways of saying “saving money on office space by having fewer desks”. This is actually pretty important and can be a strong message in a business case: if new technology can reduce occupancy from 9:10 to 6:10 you are opening up serious cost saving opportunities.
More importantly though it also creates more variety in working spaces for different personality types. The near ubiquitous (in the UK at any rate) open-plan offices are becoming linked with stress and lower job satisfaction, as well as hindering creative thinking and problem solving. Good technology should enable users to be able to access the same resources from the office, from a coffee shop or from home. This is simple to implement if the architecture is done correctly.
A further happy side-effect of this is to challenge the common presenteeism-based performance assessment and put some trust back with your employees.
- Start working synchronously: it’s so much easier
Many office-based processes are firmly rooted in a pre-computer age and are based on asynchronous working. We go to meetings, then wait for the minutes and actions to be sent round, then meet again to see if anyone has got anything done in the meantime. We engage in email conversations that can span days or weeks. We check documents in and out and track our changes so other people can see what has been worked on when it’s finally their turn. The whole thing is exhausting and a big waste of resource.
Real-time document collaboration allows many users to work on the same document at the same time over the internet. It’s been around for a while and once users try it they rarely go back. One client who implemented this found that some processes that previously took days could now be completed in hours. Meetings can be changed from somewhere to talk about work, to somewhere to get work done: create the document and the actions while you’re talking, not later. It also releases group creativity by letting people make changes and iterate more freely.
Instant messaging groups allow project teams to work together and get answers to questions almost instantly without having to be sat next to your colleagues. Tools like slack take this further and allow longer conversations grouped around a topic or team to happen in real-time. And away from the black-hole of email inboxes.
- Disrupt the silos! (and the hierarchy…)
Silos develop for all sorts of reasons: a team can be physically located in a separate office or town, or they can be working in a function that doesn’t require much interaction with other parts of the business. Many (most) organisations also have hierarchical silos: people in different tiers of management spend little time interacting with each-other; junior staff do not feel empowered to speak their mind to executives. It’s a great recipe for an idea vacuum with demotivated staff keeping their ideas to themselves.
Technology offers great opportunities to chip away at these walls and let the light in. Take “enterprise social networks”, which is corporate-speak for interacting with colleagues through the internet but not through email. Consumer social networks offer unprecedented access to leaders because they present a new channel of communication not bogged down by pre-existing social rules. Similar can be achieved in the workplace if you give your users the right tools and the freedom to explore them (i.e. don’t allow internal comms to control the conversation).
- Empower your people (and show a little trust)
I overhead an interesting conversation the other day which had this conclusion:
“I don’t get why she even needs a Mac, she’s not a developer!”.
Exactly! Why on earth would a company let its users have a say in the technology they get given? IT knows best, so staff shall have a bricky black laptop and a phone with physical buttons.
Consider the price of a laptop when compared to a person’s salary. Let’s say a person earns £40k per year, which is £48k when you take pension, office space, benefits etc. into consideration. An £800 laptop (which will depreciate over 3 years) would be 0.5% of the annual cost of the employee, compared to a 0.34% for a cheaper £500 device. Is that cost differential really worth the hit on morale and staff retention from struggling with slow, buggy computers? Consider the young talent you’re trying to bring in to generate new ideas: most of them have never seen install email clients and half-decade-old operating systems (happy 6th birthday Windows 7!). Technology matters to people: bad technology is depressing.
User choice is a new concept in IT, but it’s important because it creates a partnership with the business and empowers users to make their own decisions about the technology they need (or want). There’s clearly a balance to be struck between an “anything goes” policy and offering flexibility: we recommend providing options idn a catalogue of 3-5 devices. This quote from a real live user in a government tech transformation project goes some way to explaining why it’s important:
To conclude: good IT transformation does not automatically bring organisational change, but it’s a great enabler. And ignoring organisational change when refreshing your tech risks you wasting a lot of money and opportunity.