Thursday, March 09, 2006

Less Is More

This article squares pretty well with my experience. Technology has been a bad deal for business. Understand that I am speaking from the position of having massively benefited on the personal level. But I have yet to work at an organization that has seen net benefit from technology investments. Typically, the work is just shifted around to people who logically should not be doing it. A simple example:

Back in the day, a CEO would dictate a letter to his secretary who typed it up. He proofed it, sent it back with any corrections, it was re-typed, re-proofed, etc. until it was correct. Small computers allowed the CEO to type his own letters. The secretary is eliminated and her salary is pure profit on the company's bottom line, right?

Or is it? It is estimated that the three-year cost of a PC sitting on the average worker's desk is $40,000. I can buy a lot of secretary for $40,000 over three years. But this is just the start. What about the lost opportunity cost of having the CEO spending time trying to figure out how to set margins in Word instead of running his company? What about the intangible of a second set of eyes going over all out-bound communication? A good secretary is much more than someone who mechanically transcribes spoken words into written form. She (I'm being realistic, not sexist) is able to give feedback on a letter's clarity, point out areas that could be mis-interpreted, correct grammar, and so on. Since the advent of the Typing CEO, I have seen a marked decline in the quality of communication.

The hospital I work for spends $7-8 million on information technology. Does it really make the organization more efficient? Or has it merely eliminated file clerks making $10/hour and replaced them with an army of IS Professionals that make four times as much?

In any case, here are the money quotes:

...those who feel extremely or very productive dropped to 51 percent from 83 percent in 1994.


Expectations that technology would save time and money largely haven't been borne out in the workplace, said Ronald Downey, professor of psychology who specializes in industrial organization at Kansas State University.

"It just increases the expectations that people have for your production," Downey said.


Companies that are flexible with workers' time and give workers the most control over their tasks tend to fare better against the sea of rising expectations.


Businesses that have moved to 24-hour operations, bosses who micro-manage and longer commutes all add to the problem, they said, while downsizing leaves fewer workers doing the work of those who left.


Finally, there's a trend among companies to measure job performance like never before, said Challenger. "There's a sense that no matter how much I do, it's never enough," he said.

That pretty much sums up what my job has become over the last year.


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