One of the great things about traveling for my job is that I get more time to catch up on reading while traveling than I often have sitting at home. On a recent trip from Seattle to New York City, I was reading through a Harvard Business Review article on our current recession, and the impact on the technology sector. The article presented an interesting idea which correlates, I believe, to patterns in many SharePoint deployments: increasing productivity without increasing demand leads to resource disparities, to which many companies compensate by decreasing headcount - instead of retooling and reusing those people. That is my theory, anyway.
The concept (or problem) of increasing productivity without increasing demand is part of the problem in our currentrecession, and if you look closely at the data, has been an issue with the US economy for more than a decade. According to Robert Z. Lawrence and Lawrence Edwards in their article Shattering the Myths About US Trade Policy (March 2012), while "many people blame trade for the decline in America's employment in manufacturing," the decline in the past decade is equal to the decline we've been experiencing over the past 40 years. The authors point out that while "productivity growth has led to lower prices, demand has not grown rapidly enough to prevent a declining trend in employment."
The same can be said for impacts to the Information Worker's role. With the increase in productivity due to technology innovations and advances in collaboration, on the surface we view the negative impacts of decreased headcount (lost jobs) and negative or flat income growth, but the focus should be on re-evaluating these roles, refocusing on the shift from manual execution of business processes to end users facilitation and the automation of those business processes.
Simply put, as productivity increases , we need to change our focus.
Just as the world economy moved from agricultural to industrial, and again from industrial to information-based, within the world of the Information Worker this increase in productivity is allowing organizations to move from a hardware-centric view (where IT pulls cables, stands up servers, maintains those servers) to a business intelligence and decision support view. Where are the business opportunities today? And where does SharePoint fit? There is a gap between productivity increases and resource utilization decreases, and here are three business impacts that I believe will become more visible:
1. Repurposed roles.
With a decline in traditional IT headcount, organizations are learning to do more with less. Platforms like SharePoint allow teams to do much more with their remaining funds, shifting focus of headcount costs from maintenance to innovation services. As I've blogged about previously, the emphasis of these roles will turn to more or less Business Analyst functions, where they need to know enough about the systems to troubleshoot any issues and to work with service providers to keep things up and running, but much of what they do on a day-to-day basis is about understanding and translating business requirements into SharePoint solutions.
2. Increased reliance on services.
While there is healthy opportunity for IT Pro and consultant alike in building out customized SharePoint environments, increasingly organizations are looking to the partner ecosystem to automate SharePoint, and simplify the complexity of the platform to allow the average employee to do much more, to have more control of their environment. Look to the rapid growth of Office365, as well as the breadth and comprehensive nature of many third-party applications. Organizations will increasingly buy rather than build, and hire resources as needed to expand their environments to meet business needs, allowing them to focus on the business.
3. Focus on user adoption.
By shifting the focus of resources away from the hardware and toward the business, organizations will get more value out of their existing investments. One of the real concerns of the rapid growth of the platform was that many large customers who had made huge investments were not fully deploying the platform. One definite result of this gap between increased productivity and decreased resource investment has been the focus on user adoption. Stakeholders want to know that value is being received before approving additional investment.
There are many other factors that drive decisions around your resources, but my point here is that this fundamental change in how IT resources are utilized should cause organizations to reflect, and do some serious analysis on how to redeploy people as productivity increases. Simply cutting headcount is not the answer - it is often short-sighted and the long-term costs of the lost expertise and industry knowledge is rarely felt right away.
My goal here was not to get political, but to share my view on where this sector is going based on economic shifts. Personally, I am still a strong advocate for free trade -- especially in the area of technology and the efforts of Information Workers. Granted, we still have a long way to go on reducing the barriers on buying and selling products and services on a global basis, but the opportunities available to the Information Worker are leading the way.
Christian Buckley was a speaker at the European SharePoint Conference 2011. Check out his conference presentation by clicking here>>
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