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THE PRODUCTIVITY ASPECTS OF OFFICE SYSTEMS John D. Hogan American Productivity Center (now with The Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company) INTRODUCTORY REMARKS I would like to be able to lay out for you a number of research studies on the productivity of office systems, summarize the strengths and weaknesses of each, and interpret the resulting know- ledge in terms of good practices you should follow to obtain specific productivity results. There is, however, no such bounty of research. There are case studies of apparent good practices and successful out- comes, but few careful research studies that associate given office systems with measured productivity effects. The leading edge in office systems is technology — the automated office, office of the future, and integrated office systems that compete for our attention in journals such as Datamation, Info Systems and Computer Design. There is little question that the existence of the technology compels us to consider its use, leads us to imagine various configurations in our organizations. The more exotic the technology, the more resolutely should we remind ourselves that systoms are designed to serve needs, but even the most urgent needs cannot be accommodated at every price. Cost justification, careful design and preparation, and sensitive implementation are the keys to successful employment of office systems technology. This presentation is, therefore, a consciousness-raising effort to share views about the white collar productivity problem, the potential in office systems technology to improve productivity and some of the promising appraches to realize that potential. The office problem or white collar productivity problem comes to us in various guises but the principal manifestation is rising costs. Relative to production workers, white collar workers are an increasing burden in most organizations; the proportion of white collar worKers exceeds fifty percent of employed workers and accounts for more than sixty percent of compensation costs. The costs of the "office" are better appreciated as informa- tion handling and processing costs and include personnel, equipment 45
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and software. These costs have increased dramatically. In l946, for every dollar of information expense $3.26 of goods and services were produced; by l974 only $2.78 were produced. The likelihood is that the trend has continued in recent years. Estimates are that the productivity of office workers over the l968-78, period increased 2.3 percent, while productivity of factory workers increased l8.5 percent. The tendency is to attribute low productivity in the office to low levels of capital investment per employee. Estimates of the investment per office worker indicate it is only one-tenth of the investment per factory worker and one-twentieth of the investment per farm worker. While the numbers surrounding the office technology problem are dramatic, the management of office workers, especially skilled information workers, is widely perceived to be a serious problem. Morale is low among these workers due to threats to their status resulting from pay compression and such job-related issues as overspecialization, uneven flow of work, and inadequate information and decision support systems. The management challenge is to control the rising burden of costs and simultaneously cope with morale and work-related issues. Competitive pressures in the national and international markets are forcing attention to the office problem. One part of the solution is undoubtedly office systems techno- logy. However, a strictly technological approach to improvement of office productivity is doomed to failure. The nature of information work and information workers, office practices and perquisites that have become institutionalized, and the role of the office as an information handling and processing system force • attention to organizational behavior as the critical variable in the office situation. Information workers. The characteristics of information workers that set them apart include the following: Substantially more costly than all other kinds of labor; Tasks almost all information oriented; Not yet influenced much by information technology beyond automating traditional paper flows and clerical routines; Resistant to change in ways of handling own information and communicating with others; Not oriented to thinking in explicit cost-benefit (productivity) terms of his own activities because of lack of knowledge, disinclination, or not being requested to do so; 46
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- Work is unstructured — difficult to describe and define. The challenge, therefore, is to (l) accept the characteristics of information workers, (2) use the power of the existing information technology to assist them in their tasks, (3) find the most cost-effective personnel and technology combinations, and (4) to develop a method of measuring these most productive combinations. Wny have we made so little progress in this effort to date? Some of the reasons are: Lack of knowledge on how to create the most cost-effective combinations of personnel and information technologies. Resistance to change by information workers. Poor measurement and accounting systems. Inadequate systems to bring technology to the service of information workers. Organizational inflexibility - Unavailability of commercial systems to integrate needed technologies. THE IMPRINT PROJECT IMPRINT is an acronym for IMprovement of PRoductivity with INformation Technology. The project is a cooperative effort by the Center and sponsoring organizations to conduct research on the questions that surround white collar productivity. The project concentrates attention on (l) analysis of present work; (2) analysis and design of change; (3) creation and application of productivity metrics to the present work system; (4) changing work systems through tecnnology and other interventions; and, (5) analyzing and interpreting results. An office systems laboratory has been contributed to the Center and will be operational in the third quarter, l98O. When completed, the laboratory will have one of the most comprehensive office systems in existence for research purposes. Supplementing this facility will be office systems in sponsoring organizations which will also serve as test sites. 47
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Among the major research outputs sought in this project are the following: - Techniques and instruments for organizational intervention and assessment; - Productivity measurement and accounting systems design for information work; Guidelines for managing office systems technology pilot projects; - Case studies of cost-benefit resulting from office systems technology projects; - Guidelines for technology evaluation and integration; and design of man-machine systems for information work. SUMMARY The state of knowledge in productivity research as it relates to white collar workers can only be called backward. \fery little is known about productivity and organization variables such as high or low morale, job satisfaction, or degree of participation in organization decision-making. The parts of skilled information work that can be delegated to office system technology are also shrouded in doubt. Measurement of information work in terms of either output or productivity is in a primitive state. Research projects that can fill these voids in knowledge are sorely needed. Project IMPRINT and other office systems research projects in operation are expected to enhance considerably our understanding of information worker productivity. 48