Rethinking Business Software

In 2010, the online digital data we produce will be 16 million times more than every book ever written. And, the amount of information we receive during this year will be nearly equivalent to 12 stacks of books stretching from the Earth to the Sun.

Much of this information is as a result of the digital age - Internet and software technologies that are supposed to make the management and production of information more effective, not increase our work burden and reduce our productivity.

Cost per employee One of the most detailed surveys undertaken of worker productivity was by done by analyst research firm IDC - which explored common information tasks undertaken in today's business environment. This research included a time breakdown and cost per activity, per employee, to calculate average losses in productivity for a typical enterprise.

Unsurprisingly, email was found to be the number one waste of time in the enterprise with results demonstrating workers spent 14.5 hours each per week reading and answering email.

Second was authoring documents with workers spending roughly 33 percent of their time just writing, creating illustrations and putting together documents. This equals a time cost to employers of nearly $20,000 per worker per year assuming the average knowledge worker makes $60,000 per year.

Gathering information for documents, filing and organizing documents and creating presentations each take around a day a week per worker, costing between $10,000-$12,000 per year, per activity.

In addition to the time cost for the activities associated with authoring documents, a recent survey from Global Graphics found 53 percent of 1000 US workers questioned attributed an average of 100 minutes a week to lost productivity on navigating and trying to use difficult software programs.

Although computing is ubiquitous and consumer technologies are used for our benefit without thought, it seems business software has not yet caught up in terms of ease of use.

Where the problem lies

A better understanding of the tools employees require to do their job for the business and improved software design by developers may help address some of the issues.

Taking the creation of documents as an example, employees have to draw more and more information from ever-increasing sources, in a range of different and evolving formats. Figures in the survey revealed that 56 per cent of office workers said they would find it difficult to take pages of information from a variety of different file formats and combine them into one new document.

The mass of features offered by many business software programs further complicates matters and most are rarely used by office workers, but only the most technical "power-users." Too much unnecessary functionality in software makes it difficult for people to find and use the few functions they actually need.

Taking lessons from Consumer Technology

Business software designers need to produce applications, which don't demand extensive training to use. Like consumer technology, employees should be able to navigate business software simply and quickly. The technology should be intuitive, flexible and secondary to the work processes that staff needs to follow. The frustration is that business software developers do not design their programs in the user-friendliest way. It's clear from the research that consumer technologies are found to be far easier to use in comparison.

According to research firm "Opinion Matters," three consumer technologies: 'Digital TV,' 'internet search' and 'iPod,' are listed by consumers as the three easiest technologies to use. At the other end of the scale, the three technologies that office workers found most difficult were 'PDF software,' 'contact management' and 'slide presentations' - all common examples of business software.

The warning to businesses is clear; poor business software costs time and money. Companies need to keep an eye on consumer technology design when purchasing business software so that it's intuitive, adaptable and user-friendly. By making business software natural to use like consumer technology that people use at home, and young entrants to the workforce will increasingly demand, employees will be more efficient, less frustrated and save time and money lost trying to make technology do what they want to complete their work. Companies will benefit from lower training costs and may well attract the brightest and best stars of the future to their business as a result.

About the Author

Mr. Gary Fry is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Global Graphics. Mr. Fry is continuously looking at technology productivity issues facing office workers and how lessons learned from consumer technology design may save time and cost for businesses. Before Mr. Fry joined the company, he worked for Adobe Systems since 2001, initially as Sales and Marketing Director for Accelio, a provider of web-enabled electronic forms, before it was acquired by Adobe. In 2002 he was appointed Sales Director Enterprise United Kingdom and then EMEA before being appointed Managing Director, Enterprise, Northern Europe in 2004. He was promoted to Managing Director of Adobe Systems Benelux in 2005. Prior to joining Adobe, Mr. Fry held various Sales and Management positions in the IT industry including European Sales Manager for Catalyst Solutions, a provider of enterprise-wide IT solutions, Head of industrial support sales for Oracle, and a nine-year period with IBM, initially in engineering and then in sales. With a background in electronic engineering, Mr. Fry holds an MBA (MSc) from Reading University and a Diploma in company direction from the UK Institute of Directors.

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