I have been using computer technology since the 1970’s. I have used mainframes of all kind, e.g., IBM and the rest of the BUNCH (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC, and Honeywell); minis including DEC VAX/VMS (a personal favorite), HP-3000/MPE, and AS/400; and PC’s with Windows and the world’s best operating system, OS/2. And, Yes, I have also used smart phones and smart televisions. All of these machines are intended to improve productivity, and perhaps they have, but the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned. The fact remains, the government does not have analytical data to demonstrate whether technology honestly improves productivity. Perhaps the closest thing is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but that is a measure of output only, not the process by which it is produced.
Technology has undoubtedly improved communications, but it has also caused more traffic accidents through abuse of smart phones. It has improved our ability to wage war, but at an incredible cost, thereby adding to the national debt. Even though technology is intended to improve life, it often becomes counterproductive due to misapplication by users, but blame the programmers who fail to make it intuitive to use.
Let me give you three simple examples to demonstrate my point:
First, as many of you know, I have served on over 50 Nonprofit Board of Directors. Along the way, I have opened quite a few bank accounts for the various organizations. This typically required some simple paperwork, the signing of an application and signature cards. Elapsed time, fifteen minutes (tops). Just recently, as the new Secretary of my Homeowners Association, I helped open a new account with a local reputable bank with a big name. I was joined by the President and Treasurer on our visit to the bank. We dutifully supplied the necessary paperwork, but spent considerable time setting up the account on the computer, along with prepping for electronic banking. Elapsed time, 2.5 hours. Needless to say, this ruined the rest of our afternoon.
Second, I wanted to begin working out again at a local gym. I discovered my Medicare supplement insurance provider would pay for my monthly membership, which makes sense as it encourages a healthy lifestyle. So, I Called my provider to apply for a special code to join the gym. I thought this would be rather quick and simple. Wrong. After traversing voice mail jail and waiting in queue, I was transferred to four different people throughout the United States. I finally found the right person who issued my special code, but it tested my patience. Elapsed time, 20 minutes for a simple code number.
Third, my mother tried to order some new book shelves from one of the Mega-Garden stores. The on-line order somehow aborted in mid-session, and asked us to call an 800 number. I was selected to make the call. They first asked for the order number, which I gave them. So far, so good. Then they asked for the last four digits of my mother’s Social Security Number, which I dutifully entered. Unfortunately, it didn’t accept it, I was allowed to try it again and again, but still no luck. My head was ready to explode with anger. Having no alternative, and no human being to talk to, I cancelled the order completely.
I also have a problem with this same store where you are supposed to do self-checkout. I personally prefer the classic checkout procedure where you work with a clerk who is concerned about customer satisfaction. I find it rather ironic the self-checkout still requires a human being to make sure you check out properly (and don’t steal anything). Where is the improved productivity here?
To me, technology simply represents the tools we use at work and home, and like any tool we can either use it properly or improperly (like shooting ourselves in the foot). Even the finest tool in the wrong hands will produce inferior results. This implies there is more to productivity than the technology itself, that it depends on how the human being uses it. In other words, management is an integral part of the equation, and something sorely lacking in recent times.
Consider this, number crunching has always been one of the prime benefits of computing. If this is true, then why does it take so long to compile a financial report or budget? After all, everything should be available at the push of a button, right? Unfortunately, corporations and government agencies operate with poorly designed systems and data bases, thereby the reliability of data is doubtful, thus requiring rechecking.
So, for those companies claiming their technology improves productivity, “SHOW ME THE PROOF!” Not your test runs, but a company actually using it.
For more information on Productivity, click HERE.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is an author, freelance writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]
For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com
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