How does the Productivity Paradox affect you?

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The progress that society has made in the technology sector is truly astonishing. What we’ve been able to do with technology is one of the greatest stories of humanity. Yet wouldn’t it be fair to say that we, as the workforce, feel more stressed than ever before? The promise of technology freeing us from the mundane just hasn’t arrived. Infact, you probably feel like you’re working harder than ever before – and that’s true across the board.

Businesses aren’t seeing the productivity benefits they were promised from digital transformation, and the reality is we’re all more time-poor now than in any other time in history. There’s a lot of data that backs this up, and one of the most interesting reports^ shows that the contribution to productivity made by technology actually peaked in the year 2004, and ever since has been in decline, to a point where we’re now worse off than ever before. We’re just not seeing the same benefits from technology in the workforce that we were seeing 20 years ago. It truly is a paradox.

So why? Well, here’s a theory… Back in the early 1990’s we saw the introduction of ERP’s (Financial Systems), PMS’s (Practice Management Systems), CRM’s (Customer Relationship Management), and spreadsheets digitise existing work. It was pretty straight forward; it made the same work easier and faster by making those existing processes far more efficient. This, coupled with the fact that a significantly higher number of households owned a computer, and the productivity was easy to see and it spread around the world quickly.

Then the internet exploded, and then smartphones, and then the sharing economy. New applications started to emerge, which were great, but they put more and different pressures on how we work. Fundamentally though, the core processes haven’t really changed that much. So, it’s no longer as simple as implementing a standalone ERP, CRM, or PMS system into a business. This approach would only solve specific problems relative to the functionality of that system. You now have to apply digital transformation to the entire value chain and reinvent your processes in order to see significant results.

This has added a whole new layer of complexity, which in turn has seen the decline in our productivity growth. We have a pleather of technologies, but they’re all disconnected, so this “future of work” promise is not coming to fruition because of the complexity we now face.

Three of the main disruptive technologies over the past decade (cloud, AI, and low code applications) are being brought in by businesses all over the world because they have great individual benefits. But they’re actually just making the problem worse.

They’ve resulted in more and more applications being created, more and more deployments, and more and more disconnectedness across the application stack. This is turn has continued to drive the slower productivity decline. Don’t get me wrong, these are great technologies but they’re continuing to fracture the enterprise even further. Think businesses who acquire other businesses with disparate systems that don’t talk to each other and you’ll get my point.

And then, seemingly from nowhere, came RPA (Robotic Process Automation). RPA could be considered the ‘black swan’ of today’s disruptive technologies, but its simplicity is actually its beauty. The fact that RPA can help connect these technologies and applications at user interface level and help simplify everything is fast becoming RPA’s greatest strength.

It’s by no accident that RPA is now becoming the biggest disrupter in the modern age and is now the fastest-growing enterprise technology on earth. From out of nowhere RPA is now positioning itself at the very center of the technology stack.

Its rapid rise is making it a talking point with businesses everywhere, big or small. It’s ability to connect systems and applications together, without any need to change them, is enabling businesses to finally start to get back some of the productivity we’ve lost with its technology predecessors. This in turn drives efficiency and helps businesses fundamentally maximise their profit per employee.

^source; Bryne, Oliner, and Sichel (2013). Dept of Labour. Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

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