Office Efficiency

One of my ‘other’ jobs is to help a volunteer organisation in their use of IT. This organisation is only small and consists of six members of staff. My daytime job is to help large corporate to get the most out of their IT investments.

Both of these jobs give me an interesting insight into the ways that people interact with IT. One of them is all about detail, the other is all about high level big picture. On a personal level I tend to use one as a counter-balance to the other.

Large corporation try to increase office efficiency by investing huge amounts of money in large projects. These projects tend to focus on a radical change across a whole corporate base; new email system, desktop refresh, application upgrade, new application. In most instances the training for these changes focuses on the way that the change works; this is the way that you send email in this new system; this is the way that you schedule meetings; etc.

In my work with the volunteer organisation I have realised how diverse the use of IT is in the day to day things. There are now many different routes to achieve the same thing. In Windows (for instance) think of the different ways that you could open an existing Word document; you can use the folder views via something like ‘My Documents’; you can open up Word and do a File-Open command. Previously people would try to assess the efficiency of these types of operations by looking at the number of steps that needed to be undertaken; the one with the least steps being the most efficient. While in theory this is correct, I have come to the realisation that actually the one which is the most efficient is the one which works best for the individual. The biggest efficiency problem these days is not the time it takes for the computer to undertake an operation, it’s the time it take the individual to map out in their head the operations. And the pictures and maps that people use to do this are not linear ABC type maps, they are more like mind maps.

The only truly inefficient thing is the task map that someone has in their head which takes them on a route around the task, rather than getting straight to the task. So the challenge for corporate training is to find these inefficient tasks and routes and assist people in finding a new route. This type of education and learning is radically different to the way that we educate people today. Firstly, we need to make people realise that their productivity is their responsibility and not the responsibility of IT. But that is a difficult one to sell to some people. We then, also, need ways of understanding the ways that people are using their IT. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say “I notice from our logs of the system that you keep going to your “My Documents area by first opening My Computer” did you know that you can get there quicker by doing this.”

That type of logging is clearly not available today, all we get are ‘event logs’ which tells us about problems and issues, but tell us nothing of the way that people are working.

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