For years proponents of content and collaboration technology such as portals, content management, search, and office suites used “productivity improvements” as the reason to buy their products. Back in the portal heyday I used to have our researchers pull an annual list of articles about “portal ROI” and the numbers got more extreme every year. 100% ROI in 18 months? 300%? 400%? Sure!
Search and content management products would push time saved searching for information. As in “if we save every call center agent 10 minutes per day searching for info, and there are 250 agents that make $x per year, that’s a savings of …”
These kinds of productivity calculations fell out of favor eventually. The savings never seemed to show up on the bottom line.
But now a technology has come along that could revive talk of “improving productivity”: automation.
Last year McKinsey found that “60 percent of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated … with technologies available today.” Note that they are talking about portions of what workers do, not their entire jobs. Automating 30% of a particular type of job rarely translates to reducing the workforce by 30%. Those workers now become more valuable because they have 30% more time to do the remaining tasks, which tend to be higher value as well. Competitive and growth pressures encourage applying the windfall from automation to improved products and services rather than just profits, depending on the elasticity of the industry in question.
Now you see where those old productivity calculations become more real. If call center agents can train chatbots to handle the repetitive, easy calls they used to do, agents can now take more calls (and more interesting ones as well). Automation has provided a way to improve productivity in a way that is more substantial and measurable than in the old days of back-of-the-napkin calculations.
Improving productivity is back in style!