IT managers join productivity paradox debate

A poll of Australian IT managers suggests business workloads are increasing without corresponding hikes in worker productivity.

The survey of about 80 medium to large organisations by Internet Business Systems adds fresh fuel to the so-called Productivity Paradox debate.

It supports recent US findings that 75 per cent of employees work more than 40 hours per week, or about 20 per cent longer than the norm a decade ago, says CEO David Brykman.

The survey is based on interviews with managers conducted over the past four months. It reinforces US figures that:

* Managers spend an average of three hours a day dealing with interruptions plus 11 hours a week in meetings* Employees spend at least 50 minutes daily just on e-mail.

* An average office worker receives 52 phone calls and 22 voicemail messages a day.

Those statistics will be ammunition in the ongoing debate over whether white-collar productivity gains generated by technology are more illusory than real.

The question was first raised more than 10 years ago by Morgan Stanley chief economist Steven Roach He claimed the trillion dollar investment in computer technology by US business during the 1970s and 1980s had produced only a 0.7 per cent rise in service sector worker productivity.

Many economists disagreed with his findings but commentators like Paul Strassman, former CIO with General Foods, Kraft and Xerox, still argue the paradox is real.

Strassman says he's tried unsuccessfully to establish any relationship between IT spending and higher corporate revenues, assets, stock market prices or shareholder equity.

The paradox is that computers undoubtably enable people to work faster, smarter and in ways never before feasible.

Small business often performs better than large enterprises in measuring return on investment from new technology projects, claims Brykman.

His Melbourne company specialises in enterprise integration projects based on Web architectures and its client list includes General Motors Acceptance Corp and Epworth Hospital.

‘Small business is more inclined to keep the commercial benefits front and centre - if they are spending $100, they want to make sure that in even in the worst case they will get at least $100 back,' says Brykman.

The effort involved in implementing technology projects often leaves IT staff in large corporations with little left in their tanks for the vital follow-on work of winning over the hearts and minds of users.

As a result, the business process and end user issues vital to ROI are not adequately addressed.

Those organisations that follow through and measure ROI find the actual return is 50 per cent or less of the original expectation, according to Brykman.

The positive message from the survey is that much scope remains for winning productivity gains from successful technology implementations, he says.

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