Improving business productivity by investing in user skills
Often, when an IT user’s work is hindered by an IT malfunction, the knee-jerk reaction is to dive into the information system to look for the cause. But did you know that almost half of ‘IT problems’ are caused by poor use? Surprisingly, there is not much research in this area but Professor Jan van Dijk and Dr Arie van Deursen at the Dutch University of Twente discovered that about 8% business productivity is lost due problems with information systems themselves and with their use. This equates to almost 20 billion Euros for the Netherlands.
In their appropriately named paper ‘Ctrl Alt Delete: Lost productivity due to IT problems and inadequate computer skills in the workplace’, the researchers found it alarming that there was little management awareness of the issue and interest in solving the problem. In general, users are left – metaphorically and literally – to their own devices. 71% of staff are not monitored for adequate IT skills and 47% of managers have no formal insight into their staff’s IT skills, yet 41% of them consider their staff’s IT skills insufficient. Formal IT training has a major impact, but 35% of managers do not invest in improvement of their staff’s IT skills. Seemingly blaming their staff, managers say that 48% of staff take no initiative to improve their IT skills.
A lack of IT Skills
As for the users themselves, 25% of them say their IT skills are insufficient and 61% of them are uncertain whether formal IT help is available. When problems occur, 31% of users can solve the problem themselves. Turning to the helpdesk costs most time and has a high threshold, resulting in only half of the users calling the helpdesk. Assistance from colleagues would appear to be the most efficient solution method. 44% of users learn more from co-workers than the helpdesk.
So what recommendations do the researchers have to address this problem? Unsurprisingly, to invest in training and certification, focussing in particular on users with lower general educational skills who suffer more productivity loss than higher-educated colleagues. Another recommendation is to establish a system of IT support for colleagues in which the helpdesk plays a role, but not necessarily a dominant role – identifying the right balance between users, super users and the helpdesk can be supported by conducting a survey among personnel to identify their preferred problem-solving methods.
More than just a super user
I’m an advocate of what I call the ‘super duper user’. We’re all familiar with super users or key users, who are either formally or informally the person that you first turn to when things go wrong. However, being a super user is something that they do alongside their day jobs. They react to co-worker’s requests, but are not proactive. That where the super duper user comes into play. I’d like to see more people formally tasked with keeping an eye on how users actually use information systems, and making suggestions as to how they could use them more effectively and more efficiently. Most of us have experienced the phenomenon of sticking to the same old way of using an application, while having an inkling that it’s probably not the best way to use it. But it works, and we don’t want to take the risk that things go wrong. And anyway, we’re in a hurry, so we don’t take the time to experiment. In time, this behaviour leads to a significant productivity loss and a super duper user is ideally positioned to intervene and nudge the user in the right direction. Not as a IT traffic warden but more as an IT guide or mentor.
Extending the scope from the use of information systems to the use of information itself, ask yourself the question how well users interpret the information on which they base their decisions. Not only whether they understand what the information actually means (the semantics), but also whether the information is trustworthy. Now that our information systems are increasingly based on applications and data from external sources, awareness of information quality is becoming more important.
So in summary, significant business productivity losses are caused by IT problems, half of which are due to poor use. User training is effective but business managers aren’t investing. The helpdesk is an inefficient and unattractive resource, and users benefit more from other users. This could be improved by adopting a more proactive strategy – appointing super duper users.