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Transformation Of Work


October 29, 2015  


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Office Interiors recognized it was time to join in on the growing global embrace of mobile technology. The Halifax-based supplier of office products relies heavily on its own mobile workforce: the technicians who are on the road constantly, installing, maintaining and servicing its variety of office equipment.

So it made sense to incorporate the technology that would make that vital cog in its system more productive and efficient, says Keith Skiffington, the firm’s chief operating officer.

While it had been introducing mobile technology into its business model for the past decade, the company has increased its usage significantly over the past four years. And it has paid off: Its productivity has increased significantly.

Office Interiors is; however, not the standard for Canadian businesses it appears. Indeed, a recently-released study by Ryerson University has found that many are lagging behind their global counterparts in the use of mobile technology.

The study, Transformation of Work, notes “that in spite of the potential benefits, many Canadian organizations lack the capacity for adoption. Only half of managers (50%) surveyed had clearly integrated mobile technologies into their business strategy.

“The lack of mobile technology adoption is a major business issue that, if left ignored, could have a major impact on productivity and competitiveness for Canadian companies.”

The study, first-of-its-kind national research conducted by researchers at Ryerson University and supported by Rogers and Mitacs, was released at the annual Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto in June.

It examines the role of mobile technologies and adoption rates in the Canadian workplace and contends that new technologies, including wireless and mobile devices, improved network infrastructure, Web-based collaboration tools, machine-to-machine (M2M), pervasive and scalable cloud-based IT solutions, as well as analytics and applications, can generate improvements in productivity, development of new products and services and produce more engaged employees and customers.

However, the adoption rate by Canadian business lags behind that of global counterparts and the country’s general population -– and in many cases, behind that of the business community’s own employees.

The study echoes findings from other reports that suggest
that a disjointed approach to managing technologies in Canadian organizations is limiting adoption and impeding productivity and
innovation.

“Digital technologies have the potential to transform virtually every sector,” Dr. Wendy Cukier, vice president of research and innovation at Ryerson and co-author of the study, notes in the report. “There is ample evidence that under-investments in technology are impeding growth and productivity improvements. A strategic approach supported by management and operational policies, measurement and a culture embracing innovation are essential. Creating something new does not produce innovation unless it is actually adopted.”

In a separate interview, Cukier told Connections+ she prefers to consider the study a wake-up call rather than an alarm bell. There are myriad examples of companies that are increasing their use of mobile/wireless technology, she says. But there is ample room for improvement.

“Only 40% of small- to medium-sized businesses even have a Web site or a Web presence,” she notes.

The study found a variety of reasons for the reluctant pace among Canadian businesses (for the full report, visit http://rc4.ryerson.ca/transformation-of-work/), but noted the two prime considerations were cost and security.

Cukier acknowledges that both are legitimate concerns, but she stresses that they should not bring progress to a standstill, since those impediments can be addressed.

For instance, the report cites several examples of companies that offset the investment costs with dramatic, lucrative increases in productivity
attributable in large measure to the adoption of a mobile technology strategy

Skiffington says Office Interiors’ significant increase in mobile technology investment in the past four years was certainly spurred by a corresponding reduction in telecom costs to manageable levels, and the gains have been impressive.

The company is part of a North American productivity group that measures individual company performance against similar businesses. Office Interiors habitually scores at or above recommended performance levels; an achievement that Skiffington credits in no small part to its increased affinity for mobile technology.

“It’s a no-brainer now,” he says.

The report cites multiple examples of businesses that successfully reduced operating costs after they increased their reliance on mobile technology, including Deloitte, which is “in the process of a substantial physical restructuring of their workplace in the Greater Toronto Area, consolidating several buildings into one downtown building.

This physical shift is facilitated by increased mobile flexibility, and Deloitte representatives indicated that gains in productivity are a key driver.”

A key finding in the report shows that businesses are just starting to understand and manage the opportunities that mobile technology provides, but need help to develop management processes that drive value.

It also notes; however, that while researchers preparing the Transformation report were able to find examples of companies such as Deloitte and Office Interiors – and many others – that have demonstrable benefits to show from increased adoption of mobile technology, there is not much public information available to business that definitely shows a strong enough return on investment to justify the cost of investment.

It is a gap that the mobile technology industry should address, Cukier says. “There is much focus on the bits and bytes, but not enough on the impact of investing,” she says. “It would help to raise awareness and help businesses make better decisions.”

The decision factor is a critical one. While many companies are prepared to make the investment, they are unsure how to best go about it. Cukier notes there are consultants and even some government programs available to help companies examine their structures and determine the wisest and most fiscally responsible way to embrace the mobile technology growth.

Indeed, she says many companies probably already have – but have overlooked – a valuable commodity within their ranks to further that end: the younger generation already working for them; a generation that has grown up with daily doses of this very same technology, which is as natural to them as it is daunting for so many of the older, senior-level-executive decision-makers whose skill sets are honed on the business, rather than technology, side.

“Companies would do well to leverage the talent and energy of their young people,” Cukier says. “They’re bright, they’re not scared of technology.”

Leaning on the talents of younger, capable employees provides more than just a handy resource, she notes; it also serves as a clear show of trust and support from the management side, and provides the younger generation with added engagement in the workplace.

Skiffington concurs that senior-level managers, who are typically a generation or two older than the junior, tech-savvy employees, need to recognize the value they can bring. “You have to be open to new ideas. If you keep yourself inside those (traditional models) you limit your growth. You need to weigh the business side …. but you need to keep abreast or risk losing out.”

While the cost of mobile technology implementation has slowed investment, the report says, so, too, have the concerns about internal security. “If you are used to a closed system and it is opened up to mobile, you are definitely creating more vulnerability,” Cukier says. “These are challenges; they are not insurmountable, but they do require attention. These are legitimate concerns but not an excuse for doing nothing.”

Additional impediments cited by surveyed businesses include integration with legacy systems and the policies, processes and talent required to implement them effectively.

As for the report itself, other key findings included:

  • Mobile technology adoption is important and growing among Canadian businesses.
  • Almost all (96%) of companies are using mobile technologies. Canada has a higher rate of smartphone adoption than the U.S., yet is behind in the adoption of mobile apps in the workplace.
  • 70% of Canadian employees are mobile in some way (physically) and this is expected to increase to 73% by 2016. The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) estimates that every 1% increase in mobile technology adoption will lead to 0.08% of GDP growth.
  • Mobile technology is clearly impacting and transforming the Canadian work
    environment. It is also improving access to information and changing the definition of the workplace.
  • The workforce is becoming more mobile and workers increasingly expect flexibility and support for their use of technology.
  • Organizations reported improvements in effectiveness, collaboration and access to information.
  • Fewer than 30% of organizations see a clear value proposition
    for the technology.
  • Half of managers reported more research is needed on impacts and metrics.
  • The adoption of mobile technologies is being driven by a number of factors, but understanding and measuring the value remains elusive.

For Canadian companies to reap the full benefits of mobile technologies, Cukier notes in the report, “Canada is preoccupied with the innovation gap and most of our attention has been focused on supporting entrepreneurs and startups that commercialize and develop new technologies and processes – the supply side. Unless these new technologies are actually used, there is no innovation.

“We need additional focus on understanding the human, organizational and policy issues that affect the demand and adoption of these technologies to drive productivity improvements and global competitiveness.” C+

Paul Welch is a freelance writer based in Midland, Ont. He can be reached at welch2096@rogers.com.


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