Technology: is it your friend or foe?

The ultimate goal of many IT projects today is increased employee productivity. But in many cases organizations are in danger of having too much technology, which is not only overwhelming end users and creating confusion, but is also affecting IT workers, according to some experts.

The most common problem is too many devices, as noted in a recent study by communications equipment provider Avaya Inc. Nearly 300 IT professionals representing a variety of industries responded to the survey in March, the results of which were released last month. According to the study, voice over IP, wireless technologies and other business communications applications are posing challenges to enterprises deploying them and are intruding on the personal lives of those using them.

The study reported that 61 per cent of respondents missed important communications because they didn’t know which of their devices they should be checking for messages.

A further 54 per cent of respondents in the survey felt “overwhelmed by pervasive communications,” and 93 per cent of those people reported a “negative effect on quality of life,” the study found.

According to Ian MacEachern, director of information systems for the Ottawa-based Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) Canada, information overload doesn’t just affect end users; it can also be an issue for IT managers in a situation where the end user is expecting access to information during off-hours or when they are offsite. “Technology is the enabling tool that allows employees to work from home, and therefore those employees come to expect 7 x 24 support of the technology,” he explained.

But in some cases, “[information overload] may be a problem for IT managers simply because they have not had the time to learn how to fully use all the features of the technologies” that allow people to be most productive in the workplace. It may turn into a situation where IT managers are scrambling to help end users without enough knowledge of how the tools work, he said.

Smaller IT departments like VON’s are somewhat more susceptible to this problem, MacEachern added. “We simply don’t have the resources to train all our end users on the most efficient use of the tools we provide them with. Most of the time it’s just ‘show them the basics’ — and sometimes it’s not even that — and then we leave the bells and whistles up to them. But it’s those bells and whistles that can provide the most efficiencies.”

In some cases implementing technology for technology’s sake might be what’s causing all the headaches. Roberta Fox, a partner with Markham, Ont.-based Fox Group Consulting, said many companies still throw technology at problems, which might foster end user confusion. To avoid implementing technology that will fail, Fox said organizations should hold off on going live with projects until extensive end user training is completed.

Wireless is another example where technology is implemented to improve productivity but often leaves end users perplexed.

IDC senior wireless analyst Warren Chaisatien said that frequently, the more devices a user has, the more confusion results. “I don’t want to sound negative but I do believe there’s too much choice now when it comes to technology,” Chaisatien said. “(More) communication devices don’t necessarily equal increased productivity although some organizations have had success with wireless solutions.”

One success story is that of business intelligence vendor Cognos Inc., which has implemented BlackBerry technology for its senior management team. David Merchant, Cognos marketing and alliance manager, said the project has been a success so, in this case, technology is more friend, than foe.

“People have been saying for 20 years that organizations are in danger of having too much technology. I don’t think there’s any danger; if a piece of technology comes along and doesn’t offer business benefits then you’ll most often find it won’t become pervasive,” Merchant said.

Other findings of Avaya’s study:

— 85 per cent of respondents remain accessible to co-workers during nights, weekends and vacations;

— 76 per cent retrieve messages during time off;

— 61 per cent work more hours in a typical week due to communications capabilities that allow working away from the office;

— 25 per cent work two to five hours more every week because technology allows them to, while 17 per cent work five hours on top of their regular work week;

— 57 per cent said their employers do not give clear direction and assistance to employees in one or more of the following: setting up a robust home office; traveling as a fully equipped road warrior; implementing a wireless LAN card; or implementing a PDA.

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