Productivity tips and bottom-line boosters


You’ve been asked to a) keep your infrastructure humming and b) come up with innovative ways to use technology to boost the bottom line. Meanwhile, your resources are stretched tighter than a two-dollar string on a banjo and you spend so much time putting out fires you should be wearing a helmet and carrying a hose. We feel your pain. So we talked to tech pros and came up with these simple ways to boost your productivity.

1. Stop losing, start finding You’d think IT pros would be naturals at managing files. Think again says Laura Leist, an organizational consultant and owner of Eliminate Chaos. Leist says she recently spent five days with the IT staff at a major hospital in Seattle, teaching them how to name files and put them in folders other than My Documents.

At the workgroup level, the basic prescription is absurdly simple: Set up a common area on the network servers for storing documents. Get department heads to decide what should be stored there, who should be able to access what, and what the file-naming conventions should be.

Then install a search app such as Google Desktop or Microsoft’s Windows Desktop Search to find files across local and mapped network drives. Or, as an enterprise-class quick fix, deploy a search solution such as Search Appliance or ISYS:Web9 that can crawl the entire network .

2. Meet less, work more Although face-to-face sit-down meetings can’t be avoided entirely, you can minimize the productivity drain, says Keith Carlson, CEO of Innotas, an on-demand app vendor.

“Meetings will always expand to fill the time allotted,” he says. His fix? Make it short. Have a clear idea of what you want meetings to accomplish, limit them to 30 minutes, and hold at least some of them on your feet. “It’s amazing how productive you can be when you hold meetings standing up.”

3. Use IM (with caution) Instant messaging can avoid the delays associated with e-mail and the downtime of face-to-face or phone interactions — one reason why enterprise IM apps are really catching on.

A mid-2006 survey of 112 enterprises by the Radicati Group found that 71 per cent use a sanctioned instant messaging application, and that employees spend an average of 16 per cent of their day using IM. Radicati predicts enterprise IM traffic will grow from 2.1 billion messages per day in 2006 to 10.7 billion messages by 2010.

If you implement IM in the workplace, you need to take several precautions, says Rick Brenner, principal of Chaco Canyon Consulting. For one thing, IM falls under the same compliance rules as e-mail and other corporate communications, so care must be taken to preserve records and avoid revealing privileged information to outsiders. Enterprise-class IM systems come with that audit trail.

Used unwisely or too often, though, IM can sap your productivity. Establish guidelines on IM usage, and encourage employees to make themselves unavailable when they need to bear down and meet deadlines.

4. Free up your help desk Help desk techs spend a lot of time fixing the same obvious problems. The more no-brainer stuff you take off their plates, the more time they can spend on real dilemmas.

For example, every two weeks, Richard Casselberry, director of IT operations for networking vendor Enterasys, meets with his internal help desk department to review the questions they get and brainstorm solutions. One quick fix: Increase the number of incorrect passwords users are allowed before they’re prevented from logging on the network. By boosting failed attempts from 3 to 12, Enterasys was able to slash help desk calls for password resets without adversely affecting security.

Remote access products can help speed up call resolution by giving techs secure remote access to customer systems. Kodak Dental, whose practice management and imaging software is used by more than 37,000 dental practices worldwide, uses an appliance from NetworkStreaming that enables clients to connect with techs instantly through the firewall. Users download a small remote applet and log on to a secure Web page when they need help.

Dennis Nelson, support systems analyst for the company, says the NetworkStreaming appliance shrinks call times by 24 per cent, saving the company US$5,000 a day in support costs. That has allowed Kodak Dental to grow its business without having to ramp up help desk personnel.

5. Stop micromanaging If you can’t get your work done each day, there’s a good chance it’s because you’re busy doing someone else’s job, says Chaco Consulting’s Brenner. Inexperienced managers in particular are often guilty of taking their old jobs along with them to their new assignments, which leads to micromanaging and a host of other problems.

There’s no quick fix for micromanaging, but there is a fast way to figure out if this is your problem. Start by making a list of things you’re doing that you shouldn’t be doing, then list the parts of your job you don’t get to each day. As you winnow the first list the second one will also shrink when you realize all of the other things you should be doing but aren’t.

Stepping in and doing the job for your reports only makes the problem worse, Brenner adds. The key is teaching your staff the skills they need to stand on their own. That may require outside training, allocating more resources, or finding ways to reward productive workers without necessarily promoting them into management.

6. Double your displays Sometimes, adding inexpensive hardware can give your bottom-line a boost. In May, insurance firm The Durkin Agency moved 20 of its claims adjustors, data entry clerks, and IT employees to a dual-monitor setup using 19-inch flat panel displays. The result: A 10 per cent increase in the number of insurance claims the firm processed each day, along with increased employee satisfaction, says vice-president Eileen Durkin.

7. Look for easy ways to integrate Most enterprise application integration projects are huge hairy beasts, capable of gobbling up every IT resource and budget dollar in sight. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Simplified integration tools such as the open source Jitterbit software or Cast Iron Systems’ iA3000 appliance allow you to integrate different apps without the pain of programming, freeing up your IT staff for more important endeavors.

IT solutions provider Optimus Solutions used Cast Iron appliances to integrate data between and Microsoft Navision (now called Microsoft Dynamics NAV). After the company’s development team had identified the data it wanted to integrate and how it should look, getting Cast Iron implemented took about a week, says Steve McDonald, vice-president for IT at Optimus.

“It’s had an enormous impact on our productivity,” McDonald says. “We got exactly what we needed with appropriate scalability without having to hire an EAI specialist. We’re just beginning to discover all the synergies between our sales and AR teams, but the improvement in the general level of consistency and communication on both sides has been noteworthy.”

8. Think strategy, not tactics Ultimately, by measuring how you and your staff spend, minimize waste, and delegate authority, you want to be in a position where you can see the big picture of how IT relates to your organization’s bottom line. But that’s not where most IT organizations are today, says Chuck Kirchner, manager of the Forsythe Solutions Group’s IT service practice.

A good measure as to whether an IT department is reactionary or visionary is how often its top IT execs must leave meetings to deal with production problems or other emergencies

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