What Is Productivity?
Organizations across all sectors are closely examining their productivity and what they can do to improve it. But before we dig into how tech functions can help drive productivity, we’d better level-set what we’re talking about.
Productivity measures the amount of work you can get done with defined time and resources—or, more formally, “a ratio between the output volume and the volume of inputs”. The key takeaway is this: anything we can do to increase the amount of work completed will increase productivity. Equally, anything which reduces the cost or time required to do that work will also increase productivity—which is what we all want.
Why Is This a Focus Now?
Productivity has come under the spotlight because of the current choppy state of business: continued challenges to global supply chains, political and economic instability, and inflationary impacts on the entire business ecosystem.
Faced with this challenging business environment, leaders are asking their organizations to find ways to do more with less and to drive cost reductions. Just as many of us are trying to tighten our home finances, so many businesses are looking to achieve savings—in both cases, to build up contingency funds against unknown future risks. Many organizations, which until recently focused only on growth, are now willing to spend serious time and effort on cost-reduction and productivity improvement measures.
A Change of Focus for Finance
This is something of a pivot in the boardroom—as the graph of “CFOs’ and Finance Leaders’ Primary Actions to Combat Inflation” from Gartner shows, the initial response (in blue) of finance leaders to the threat of inflation was to increase their prices—in other words, to pass increased costs on to their customers. However, in the face of more protracted inflation, their follow-up response (in orange) was very different, with almost 40% planning cost reduction, alongside a greater commitment to automation. Finance leaders clearly understood that simply increasing prices isn’t a sustainable response to inflation, so for the longer term, they’re turning instead to drive increased productivity through cost-reduction and reduced human effort.
First, Define Your Scope
Before you can roll up your sleeves to drive increased productivity, you’ll need to reconfirm where you have the freedom to run leaner. Resources required to deliver the most strategic projects will need to be protected. You’ll also need to understand which processes are required just to keep the business running—”keeping the lights on”—although there is almost always scope to optimize these, so you should plan to connect with Finance on this. There will also be “must do” initiatives which are not optional due to regulatory or compliance requirements—and again, you will want to explore ways to deliver those most efficiently and effectively. Finally, there are usually resources and activities which are historic carry-overs, which to date have been easier to roll forward than to terminate. These are often the most fruitful areas for cost reduction and efficiency gains.
Next, Protect Key Skills
Alongside safeguarding your most strategic projects, you must protect your scarce skills. While layoffs are present in the headlines, the job market for practitioners and IT professionals remains very tight. As you start potentially complex projects to eliminate or reduce nonessential systems and assets, the last thing you need is to lose experienced talent that knows its way around your systems and infrastructures. Whenever possible, use cost reduction through automation (for example, the capabilities baked into observability solutions) to carve out funds to protect your experienced team members.
Lastly, Dig Deep Into Productivity
Once you’ve completed the preparation, it’s time to roll up your sleeves on cost reduction and efficiency gain. The first task is to understand in detail what’s currently live in your environment because we’ve all seen organizations which accumulate significant, redundant “zombie” infrastructures. Integrated solutions like SolarWinds® Hybrid Cloud Observability provide insights into your environment, and automated discovery and dependency mapping can help identify potentially redundant kit– exactly the clutter, which would be a great target for rationalization. For the fullest understanding of what’s installed where a proper audit may be required to enable solid decisions on what to eliminate and what to reduce or deliver in a lower-cost way.
Curiously, current economic stress can ease this process—redundant systems and services often stay in place past their sell-by date through organizational attachments and sentiment. However, the pressure for productivity gains is so pressing that it can become a useful compelling event that overcomes historical resistance to change.
Eliminating overlap and duplication is another obvious target, and removing tool sprawl is a great place to start. Many operations teams have acquired a mixed bag of specialist tools over time. Integrated observability solutions help consolidate down the numbers of different systems your IT operations and DevOps teams are running, and help drive down costs of licenses, training, and maintenance, and can help achieve economies of expertise.
Automation is nothing new, but it remains an essential lever for driving operational efficiency and removing repetitive manual toil from the operations process. This is increasingly being enhanced by AIOps capabilities—event correlation can help steer your teams towards the most likely root causes of issues, helping them to fix issues sooner, while anomaly detection helps highlight unusual events for further investigation – and both are baked into SolarWinds Observability.
At a time when all teams are working together to drive productivity gains, Tech functions can certainly pull their weight. While the measures outlined above are not revolutionary, they can add up together: last year, a communications service provider customer saved more than $2 million in recurring annual costs by investing in the components which make up the foundation of the full-stack SolarWinds® Hybrid Cloud Observability solution. While we can’t promise you’ll match this saving, exploring observability solutions can highlight opportunities to drive productivity and help set you up strong for whatever comes next.
“Defining and Measuring Productivity,” OECD, https://www.oecd.org/sdd/productivity-stats/40526851.pdf, (accessed January 2023)
Gartner, Press Release, Gartner Survey Shows Significant Rise in Number of CFOs Planning Cost Cuts Due to Inflation, May 2022, https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2022-05-19-gartner-survey-shows-significant-rise-in-number-of-cfos-planning-cost-cuts-due-to-inflation
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