When more isn’t enough

A statistic is a statistic is a statistic. And, like Chinese whispers, statistics rarely actually say what they mean. One wonders, then, about the current fetish for “”productivity”” as an important economic statistic. Governments monthly trot out productivity numbers; much hangs on them, one would

think, not least of which is job stress of the most exquisite kind.

Especially if one is a stressed-out IS/IT professional. Clients want to know what’s next. They’re wary clients, too: they’ve been burned, many of them, by over-expensive software implementations, frosted with promises of greater productivity.

“”Is it what it is?”” Pogo wondered. Good question: productivity numbers, I’d argue, aren’t nearly so revealing as the processes which cause them to fluctuate. Productivity is, lest we forget, only a number: total output divided by total human hours worked.

Then there’s the pernicious kind, an increase from flat output but fewer hours worked. Hence the U.S.’s peculiar recent increases in productivity versus Canadian: bodies are going out the door, the employment scene wanes but productivity rises…because total hours worked are dropping. And this is good for the economy? For the stressed-out human beings involved?

Yikes! I’d argue that true productivity increase is not a number, it’s a process, and a cultural one at that. For one thing, you can jump productivity by efficiently producing unwanted technology, fibre optic networks being but the most recent of such Pyrrhic victories.

What gives? Payroll and supply-chain management systems being tough sells these days, is it pure coincidence that software addressing so-called productivity issues isn’t leaping off the shelves? Software upgrades had better demonstrate a real leap in performance or clients won’t bite.

I’d say there’s a hefty cloud of wishful thinking floating between all too many IT software developers’ ears, residue perhaps of the Good Old Days, when an upgrade purchase or a biggied-up licencing fee was a cheque in the mail for the software company. Clients nowadays are too shrewd, too aware that you can’t kloodge strategy and best practice into software and call it a business solution.

Talk on the street suggests real-world clients don’t know what they want. No surprise that many clients decide to hire a consultant and maximize what they’ve got.

Increasing productivity is a process: surely it’s common ground that all the software in the world won’t work if the very culture of a company doesn’t change to help meet the goals expressed in the latest glorious software buy.

True productivity increases are reflected in more transparent, less stressful IT processes — yet again the human factor — not to mention a better economy itself.

Live and be well.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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