Business Efficiency

This article is not is not really a computer term so much as it addresses one of the most common problems sought after by business owners. We have seen the problem over and over in businesses where the owner or manager is looking to "improve things." They call in a technology expert to help them implement a computer solution or information management system that will improve efficiency. Now, on the surface this appears to be a reasonable goal. Let's take a closer look at this reasonable goal.

If you really know it all, why are you asking for help?

First thing presented to the technology representative is the number of computers that will be needed to help get that efficiency. Next is a list of programs that they should have to run on those new computers. Now comes a request for a proposal that will become the shopping list for the products that are wanted. They also mention that the pricing will be compared to an advertisement from the local newspaper where the neighborhood 80,000 square foot discount computer superstore is having a sale.

How to make sure that you fail

Once the demand is presented, the inexperienced vendor will go off trying to do just what was asked. Try to get a whole bunch of hardware that beats the price of this computer parts monolith and squeeze in about 1% of margin. The computers are cheap, price and quality (just like the monolith's), the system does not get the efficiency the business needs and worse yet is the cost of buying it and then hiring numerous others to try and cobble the system together and keep it up.

I'm sorry, I don't think we do that

The experienced vendor, however, will thank the customer for their time, explain that they will not be able to help with this project and leave immediately, not looking back. The business still has not achieved the needed efficiency, but at least this vendor was honest. Honest enough to not spend the company's money when they knew that it would not produce the desired effect for the business and gain them a good reference.

Now what?

So, the answer is to just give up? Hardly! Let's examine how efficiency should be implemented, where the business really gets a return for their investment.

Make a professional plan, or pay to have it done

The beginning of any project worth undertaking requires serious planning. Find a vendor that will evaluate the business's processes to come up with the problems that can be addressed by implementing technology. Not everything can be solved by throwing a computer at it. Expect to pay for the planning process, if you want a good plan it will not be free.

Come up with solutions and work backwards

A good plan will address problems and propose new methods with software to correct or minimize the impact the problems are causing the business. The plan will then work backward to the hardware that it will take to implement the new programs and methods. Depending on the size of the project the plan may also include an interconnecting strategy for the hardware.

That great bargain probably isn't

The vendor may also include specific types or brands or models of products that should be used to help get the desired results. The initial purchase price is a very poor indicator as to the total cost of ownership for a hardware item. In computing, the price of hardware is negligible when compared to the cost of the human labor who will be using the equipment and storing company data. To illustrate this point lets assume that you have three employees who average $12.00 per hour (with overhead) entering orders or other data. At the end of the first month you have invested $6240.00 in your information. That amounts to $74,880.00 per year! Is saving $100.00, $1000.00 or even $5000.00 on an inferior product really worth it? You have more than that invested in labor your first month.

The importance of education

The next key issue involves more of the cost of labor. The importance of budgeting for educating your employees. If people do not know how to use the new products you WILL NOT get the most value from your investment. In fact, by not knowing what they are doing the chances of damaging information go up tremendously.

Be absolutely committed to change

You must be committed to making the change. Humans are creatures of habit and changing is difficult, even impossible for some. If after setting up the new system you are still also using and relying on the old systems you have gained nothing. You will also have a staff of frustrated employees who now have the same problems as before and now twice the workload. Commitment to change must come down from the top without exception. Those who refuse to adapt may need to be invited to seek career plans elsewhere.

Get out of the way and let things get done

The next point is one of the most difficult for the owner to accept. The human CPU is very inefficient at multitasking. We seem to switch gears well, but it's an illusion. Of course, we don't let our inefficiency show. We don't betray the fact that task one, just interrupted, is still churning on in some corner of the brain, making it impossible to pay attention to the guy who is throwing tasks two and three at us. We smile and nod, so as not to look stupid. He goes away and we try to remember what task one was, but it's lost. And tasks two and three, well, they're floating tantalizingly in recent memory when the phone rings and task four comes spilling into the ear. When people are called upon to switch tasks the brain seems to need to store away the project that it was working on and clear the slate for a new project. If there are enough task switches in a short period of time the person never really gets up to speed on anything. When this is pointed out to management, they typically respond by saying that it's just the way that things have got to be, this is how the real world is. This couldn't be further from the truth. Interruptions that cause task switching will vary greatly between two companies in the same industry. This need for task switching is due mostly to managerial sloppiness. You must take every step possible to eliminate it. If there is anything that you can do to improve business efficiency it is to design systems that reduce human task switching.


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Modified 04/14/2005