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Do productivity tools deliver?

Productivity tools offer many benefits, but not every organisation has the culture to make these tools a perfect fit.

Read time 5min 20sec
Riaan van Wamelen, JSE
Riaan van Wamelen, JSE

Technology has delivered untold efficiencies for businesses and individuals alike. Whether it's a simple timekeeping app on your phone or an enterprise-wide workflow installation, technology has revolutionised the way we do business and manage our tasks and responsibilities. Or at least, it has the potential to.

While many organisations might have some form of document management system in place, productivity tools are not universally implemented by organisations or adopted by their users. CIOs are under constant pressure to deliver and have access to the best productivity tools on the market. We speak to three tech execs to get their views on whether these types of technology are essential to business, and if so, which ones they use.

Robert Boccia, the CEO at Leapfrog Innovation Technology Group and previously the CIO at Lion of Africa Insurance and Microsoft, is a firm believer in the benefits of productivity tools. He says that at Lion, the company deployed LYNC 2013 and then Skype for Business together with Office and SharePoint. The company ran its collaboration meetings via LYNC and Skype for Business, and ultimately integrated full voice connectivity with Lync so they could do away with all desk phones.

This was also incorporated with SharePoint so that people had access to their information at all times from laptops and mobile devices, and connection to collaboration environments was available across these devices as well.

"People used their laptops with the Skype for Business apps as their phone, and we used to present the company meetings via this platform as well," he says. "What this meant was that cross company presentations were far less costly because people didn't have to fly up to HQ to attend these meetings as they were broadcast via this technology."

Real benefits

He says this technology also had benefits in the case of a data recovery exercise, because people could work from home as long as they had an internet connection. "The big driver here was to save on collaborations costs."

In this way, at Microsoft, around $100 million a year was saved through the eradication of travel for cross group meetings. And at Lion, savings of around R500 000 per year in call cost reduction and travel reductions were realised.

"The real benefits of these productivity tools are the reduction in time and increases in output," he says. "The tools also move the organisation into a far more agile space, allowing people to work from literally anywhere, meaning the organisation can be more flexible around working strategies."

Before we select the product, we have to gauge whether the business has the appetite to motivate the spend and get a return on investment.

Belinda Milwidsky, Fluxmans Inc

Having thus reaped the benefits, today at Leapfrog, he and his team use the full stack of Office 2016, SharePoint, OneDrive for Business and Skype for Business to drive collaboration across disparate teams.

Belinda Milwidsky, IT manager at Fluxmans Inc. believes the key to determining what productivity tools you need is to understand your business and its culture. "There are various productivity tools on the market, so before selecting a specific product, the CIO or IT team need to understand what the business is trying to achieve, otherwise the effort is wasted."

She says that when her team is approached by the business to deliver a productivity solution, they sit down together to try to understand the business requirement and business case. "Before we select the product, we have to gauge whether the business has the appetite to motivate the spend and get a return on investment.

New productivity tools to consider

According to an article by Peter Davidson, published on business - 2community.com, collaboration tools have become increasingly popular in recent years - especially those that allow teams to work together on various projects efficiently and smoothly. He lists the following new releases to watch this year:
1. ProWorkflow - an online project management tool that allows team members to view the team's projects, see what tasks have been completed and look at what work is coming up.
2. EXo Platform - an open-source programme that allows businesses to customise the file-sharing, projectposting, task management platform to suit their own needs.
3. Switch.co - the website offers a number of different communication tools and ways of collaborating with others, including the ability to integrate the phone system with Office 365 and Google Apps or Work.
4. Zoho Projects - a free, somewhat customisable tool supporting online collaboration projects.
5. Mavenlink - this online tool offers project management and a way of planning resources and financial tools to balance budgets.
6. Trello - lets users arrange things by boards, with cards (tasks) within each board.
7. Podio - this tool facilitates communication through a social media-like setup of status updates and comments, mainly for small or medium-sized businesses.
8. WorkFront - a cloud-based work management collaboration where members can easily share ideas, files and reports in real time.

However, in Fluxman's case, the old stereotype about law firms being technologyshy holds. "The lawyers at Fluxmans are generally conservative, so technology is not a driving factor, but is very beneficial once a good understanding is reached regarding the end goal."

In light of this, Milwidsky says that the firm doesn't use any specific productivity tools, but is considering Qlik View for business intelligence.

Automation

According to Riaan van Wamelen, CIO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the productivity of non-specialised roles within his organisation has for a long time been supported by the Office suite, and SharePoint for document sharing and management. From a mobile perspective, they make use of a platform that allows for the sharing of certain content as if it was within the physical walls of their environment.

"We do this rather than VPNing in the classic sense," he says. "For example, we will facilitate the sharing exco agendas and supporting material via the mobile solution."

For Van Wamelen's IT team, in the infrastructure space, they use tools like Puppet, which allows them to carry out an automated infrastructure build at the touch of a button. "This is a huge productivity benefit for us because it allows us to test a new environment in a matter of minutes instead of days."

He says that this automation offers a huge improvement on the grunt work of manual testing. "When we have a large transformation project on the go, being able to run automated testing with automated regression saves us a lot of resources."

And like Milwidsky, when his team is deploying solutions for the business side, Van Wamelen believes it's vital to properly engineer business processes beforehand. "And then we build the automation into the solution. Historically, we haven't been all that great at process automation, but this is now a focus."

The feedback from the three IT leaders illustrates that productivity is naturally the goal of any business, and where technology can enable that, it's enthusiastically received. However, their shared years of experience illustrate that it is necessary to assess the business' true needs before going ahead with any implementation - just for the sake of technology.

This article was first published in the [April 2016] edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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