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5 minutes reading time (1099 words)

SMB Productivity improvement: finding hard numbers in soft benefits

We know that productivity is a very important business goal for your organization. And that not only employee productivity but also group and organizational productivity is of importance. The IT industry is abuzz with discussion of how to improve productivity – and the number of suggestions is logarithmically proportional to the number of IT suppliers. But you need to find that trusted advisor, an unbiased supplier who can sift through the hype. We know that there is an ongoing change, a shift towards business value & employee empowerment. These refer to the new priorities among SMBs to invest in tools and technologies that allow their users to make better business decisions, improve market reaction time and better serve their customers. In other words, SMB firm leaders like yourself, are looking to improve return on Human Capital as a way forward.

Drilling down beyond the hype – how can you use technology to augment your organizations’ ability to compete tasks and decrease process friction?

Productivity

Techaisle found that SMB business leaders are believers in the connection between technology and productivity: 55% see “creating processes that constitute a better way of doing business” as a key benefit of IT, 57% credit IT with “facilitating better automation of core business processes,” just over half report that IT creates “better coordination across functional areas,” and an even 60% state simply that technology “improves employee productivity”.

Technology execution

The above statistics come with a significant caveat: technology benefits, especially productivity benefits, accrue disproportionately to firms that have invested in building a sophisticated approach to IT.Techaisle has divided SMBs into four groups based on IT sophistication: Pre IT, Basic IT, Advanced IT and Enterprise IT. It shows clearly the benefit of building deep IT capability.

Relative to Pre IT-organizations, firms that have developed Enterprise IT-level sophistication are:

  • Nearly 75% more likely to state that IT creates processes that constitute a better way of doing business
  • More than 80% more likely to gain better coordination across functional areas from IT
  • More than 2.5 times more likely to see technology as a means of facilitating better automation of core business processes
  • Well over twice as likely to report that technology improves employee productivity

The gaps between Enterprise and Pre IT-are evident in these statistics, but additional data demonstrates substantial differences between the four groups in many areas. Simply put, technology benefits aren’t an automatic outcome of technology deployment – they require real investment in building culture and capabilities needed to translate IT potential into tangible productivity benefits.

What are your options?

The need to build IT sophistication extends across technologies, but beyond that requirement, there are technologies that are particularly well suited to improving productivity. Where should business leaders focus their investments to obtain the greatest productivity benefits from IT solutions? Techaisle research points to four areas where executives can draw a straight line from IT capabilities to improved productivity:

  • When surveyed, 63% of SMBs currently using analytics reported that analytics improves processes, and 59% stated that analytics increases productivity.
  • Mobility solutions that connect remote or mobile workers to corporate resources improve productivity in several ways: 30% of SMBs report that improving employee workflow is the single greatest benefit of mobility, 20% view improvements to internal business operations as the most significant mobility benefit, and 12% believe that the most impactful outcome of mobility is improved business communications. Collectively, 62% of SMBs see these three productivity-related benefits as the most compelling mobility outcomes.
  • Improved employee productivity is the second highest-rated benefit of collaboration (after “faster decision making,” which is itself a measure of productivity. As a reminder of the importance of coupling technologies with internal capability improvements, Techaisle’s research found that innovative businesses are 1.8x more likely to experience improved employee productivity with collaboration solutions than firms that are not innovative.
  • Cloud computing is the primary platform used to enable mobility and analytics. Techaisle’s global survey found that increase collaboration (34%), enable mobile workforce (33%) and improve productivity for line of business users (32%) were three of the top six benefits gained by SMBs using cloud.

Key focus areas

How can SMB executives balance the need for new solution investment and internal capability development, to obtain best productivity returns? Techaisle’s research into collaboration provides valuable perspective on the connection between business attitudes and collaboration benefits. Three of the five characteristics of innovative SMB businesses refer to collaboration: emphasis on cross-functional teamwork and face-to-face meetings, and investment in collaboration platforms. Among the key collaboration benefits, the top two (faster decision making, improved employee productivity) refer to productivity. A case could be made that the fourth and fifth benefits, “better teamwork within and across departments/groups” and “seamless exchange of ideas,” are also important attributes of a productive organization.

Setting metrics and milestones

While individual targets will vary by business and by context within an organization, the notion that technologies and culture/capabilities combine to deliver optimal benefits provides an apt starting point for SMB executives looking to apply management frameworks to productivity-related solution investments.
Look again at the productivity-related benefits listed in the text and consider whether you have the information needed to develop hard targets for your operations.

  • Could you define metrics that would determine whether/how your decision-making is accelerated by collaboration technology?
  • Do you have the benchmark data needed to understand process efficiency (or speed, or cost), so that you could articulate your improvement objectives to the team recommending analytics solutions?
  • Is there an opportunity to identify the impact of richer communications or accelerated workflow, so that you can direct your team to investigate mobility or cloud solutions that would deliver better business outcomes?

By building metrics that connect technology solutions to tangible results, you are able to translate the promised but hard-to-quantify benefit of productivity into practical solution objectives – and align your IT investments with your business aspirations. This is not an easy path to define, but it is an approach that allows SMBs to be more directed – and ultimately, more agile and successful – than large enterprise competitors.

If you are looking for two numbers to use as a foundation for this approach, you might want to consider “42%” and “2”: 42% of the 5,182 SMBs surveyed by Techaisle consider “improving workforce productivity” as a key business objective in 2018, making productivity the #2 most important care-about for global SMBs. Everyone in your organization should be able to understand that productivity is a crucial business imperative – and that it requires the development of capabilities and deployment of technology within your organization, and a commitment to using business-relevant metrics to identify and manage best-bet solutions.

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