Is our industry delivering on the promises and expectations that it has set its customers?
There was talk of the paperless office and how IT would smooth the business flow, yet judging from the strength of the print and consumables business this was clearly a myth.
It all seemed so simple when we demonstrated an IBM PC running a word processor 25 years ago. You could correct errors before committing to paper, move text around, produce boiler plates, and even better, re-use the same letter to multiple recipients. This provided a significant leap in productivity. Those that could afford to embraced the technology, and the revolution started.
In parallel, other innovations such as accounts systems and spreadsheets occurred. However, apart from those initial years of innovation up to and including the first generation of Windows, who can say that other productivity savings have been as great? Does version five of the accounts package you installed for your customer recently offer anything like the productivity boost that you saw when you introduced the first versions all those moons ago?
In almost every department in every business, users are still re-entering data from one system into another. Whether this is from print-outs or the web, because of the ‘siloed’ nature of business and the differing time lines for the computerisation of departments, business is rife with it. Why don’t we help firms change that?
Imagine being able to go to a customer and say: “We can demonstrably improve productivity by 15 per cent. You don’t have to buy an upgrade: you can use the equipment you’ve already bought.”
Business process re-engineering is about to reach the SME space in a big way and those with the skills to take advantage of it will do very well. It is no coincidence that Microsoft has been quietly shipping its SharePoint intranet collaboration platform free on all 2003 servers. This will receive a major boost in functionality and integration with the launch of Office Server 2007, which when combined with tools such as InfoPath and the much enhanced BizTalk 2006 server, means that most SMEs and their VARs have the tools in easy reach.
By looking at what our customers are doing on a day-to-day basis and properly integrating these systems we can eliminate much of the repetitive grunt work from the data input end of the business process, so that people can focus on what they do best. There are barriers to overcome, of course, because many of these existing systems do not have the sorts of usable interfaces needed to link everything together. But there are generic tools available on the market to address this.
So the technology is ready to go and the customer will love you for it. The nirvana of the IT sector, those precious services revenues, are there for the taking. What could possibly go wrong?
And the next productivity step function? Undoubtedly it will be ‘mobile’, but not a straight copy of the back-office system into the field, rather just the bits the mobile worker actually needs, when they are needed, irrespective of signal availability. And if the output turns out to be a spreadsheet for someone to re-enter into the back-office system, then I say, “Shoot the vendor.”
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