Office Productivity: Strategies to Jumpstart Growth

“The amount of wasted time at work is a bigger problem than any of us would like to admit,” observes a white paper by U.S. software maker Ascentive.

If we calculate the average wasted time per employee in a typical office, we end up with 6.75 hours per week, or 337 hours per year (at 50 weeks). That’s over 8 weeks of time, per employee, per year that is wasted. So if the average salary of your employees is US$30,000 a year or US$600 a week, that’s US$4,800 of work time that is non-productive. If you have 20 employees you could be losing almost US$100,000 per year in time paid for, but not received.
Simply defined, office productivity is the relationship between the tasks and equipment needed to produce a product or service, and the value of the final result. There are many ways companies can increase productivity. The most obvious methods involve automation and computerization, which streamline tasks and processes.
Over the years, many hardware and software have appeared and promoted by developers as office productivity enhancing technologies, such as productivity software suites, electronic documentation, unified communications, remote access, and workplace activity management.
Productivity Suites
Perhaps the most popular productivity enhancer, office productivity software is a general term applied to the most common kinds of applications software to increase a user’s productivity. The software includes a suite of functions, such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software and an email program.
The most ubiquitous productivity suite is Microsoft’s Office. The company recently released Office 2010, which leverages cloud computing with a suite of web-based applications – online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
The big news in Office 2010 pricing is not only that prices are down in general, but also that you can get a significant discount if you forgo buying a physical disc (which costs US$499), and instead download the software. You can do this by acquiring a trial version on a new PC, or installing it from a previously purchased CD.
In any of those scenarios, you'll be able to purchase a card (US$349) with a product key that you'll use to activate the software. You’ll be able to use Office Web Apps free of charge – but you’ll need a Windows Live account either way.
“The new editions aren't expensive, but the people who invested in Office 2007 really should get a break,”  Yardena Arar of PC World magazine says of Microsoft not offering any upgrade pricing. “If you skipped Office 2007, a switch to Office 2010 is worth considering – even in a recession.”
There’s also OpenOffice, an open source office productivity suite that’s free and compatible with pretty much every other office suite out there. Since it is cross platform, OpenOffice can be used on whatever platform.

Other productivity software available are WordPerfect Suite (which costs about US$250), 602 PC Suite, and ThinkFree, a web-based office application that’s free but doesn’t include a database application.

Doing Away with Paper
To further increase office productivity and reduce office expenses, more and more businesses are turning to electronic documentation or digital document capture. If your company is having difficulty dealing with volumes of paper, you should be going in this direction.
Almost two-thirds (61%) of decision-makers and managers across Asia feel that their companies would be more productive if they adopted electronic document processes – a trend that is expected to increase in the coming years, finds The Ambition Gap survey conducted by Canon and AMI Partners.
Despite the increasing awareness and adoption of electronic business processes, Asian companies with 50-999 employees require regular printing in order to get work done, says the study. But it is important to note that more than half of these companies are going paperless and are encouraging employees to print less.
Quoting recent studies, Shooping Lin, sales director at scanner manufacturer Plustek, says that employees spend up to 60% of their time preparing, handling, filing, copying and faxing documents. “As a result, only two days per week are spent on productive, decision-making time. Document management systems increase office productivity by providing a workforce with the tools that ensure information is readily available – in the form it is needed, when it is needed and in the correct version,” says Lin.
According to a study done by California’s Alameda County, “the typical U.S. office worker uses more than 10,000 sheets of paper per year, which is about two cases of paper per employee. With an average price of US$40 for a case of standard copy paper, this is an US$80 annual cost per employee.”
Immediate benefits derived from document imaging include reduced costs of handling, storing and duplicating paper documents, and reduced impact on the environment. Another major advantage is improved internal efficiency by reducing the time employees spend locating documents and files and increasing the time they spend with customers.
Before making a purchase, think about why your company needs a document management software system. Experts suggest implementing the system into your human resources department first. Then, if the process goes well, you can use your HR department as a starting point for other departments.
The cost of purchasing a document management software depends on the size of your company, says Resource Nation, Inc., an online marketplace for business purchasers and vendors. A small company may only need an entry-level system that includes a server, scanner and software package for around US$3,000. Larger companies with at least 100 users will have to invest up to US$80,000.
There are many document management software available in the market today. A couple of them are Canon's eCopy and Datacap’s Taskmaster Document and Data Capture.

One of Singapore’s largest full service law practices, Rodyk & Davidson, has recently implemented Canon's eCopy. Using Canon’s eCopy, the staff of Rodyk & Davidson can now scan documents for emailing directly into their document management system. Since documents are automatically scanned in searchable PDF format, performing a keyword search on electronic documents can be done in seconds. Documents can also be scanned and converted directly into Microsoft Word, thereby allowing staff to edit their documents.

Meanwhile, Datacap's technology allows customers to quickly extract information from unstructured formats, such as tax returns, invoices and claim forms, saving time and money over manual processes, according to a statement.
Unified Communications
Your company can also save money by opting for unified communications. A study by Frost & Sullivan finds that business performance increases as companies employ more advanced IP-enabled unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) tools, such as voice over IP soft phones, immersive video, and fixed mobile convergence solutions.
“While many businesses tightened their IT budgets during the recent recession, a growing number of organisations are deploying unified communications solutions -- integrated voice, data, messaging, conferencing and collaboration services over converged networks -- as confidence creeps back and budgets expand,” writes Brian Kopf, manager of unified communications practice, CDW for Network World (US). “Customers tell us that UC solutions quickly increase their organisations' productivity and reduce operating costs.”
One Asian company that has benefitted from unified communications is India's Mahindra Group. Searching for a common platform to reduce overall communication cost, the company decided on a single server architecture to provide VoIP services to all users.
“Our objective was to create a unified communication platform which would enable users to collaborate at anytime, anywhere and on any device including computers, laptops, PDAs, IP and analog phones,” Arvind G. Tawde, senior VP and CIO, Mahindra & Mahindra told CIO India. The result of this single platform has been substantial cost savings and improved employee productivity.
If you’re shopping for a unified communication system, the market is flooded with vendors.
Jon Arnold, Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy based in Toronto, defines the UC vendor landscape along the following lines:
  • Telecom-based (Avaya, Siemens, Mitel, ShoreTel, Aastra, NEC)
  • Software-based (Microsoft, IBM)
  • Platform solution (Interactive Intelligence, Zeacom, Esnatech, PanTerra Networks)
  • Hosted/cloud-based (Alteva, Ringio, Smoothstone, CallTower, Cypress Communications)
  • Open source (eZuce, Shared Technologies, Fonality)
  • Web-based (Google, Skype, Yahoo!)
A new tool out in the market is Microsoft’s Lync, the next generation of Microsoft's Office Communications Server software. The lure for businesses with Lync is that it is capable of augmenting or replacing traditional PBX and conferencing systems, thereby saving companies money on hardware and licensing costs.

Mobility and Remote Access

As more and more offices are becoming a collection of a dozen disparate home computers, mobility and remote access are essential in promoting productivity of workers – whether they are in the office or at home.
According to networking company Cisco Systems, letting employees remotely access company applications makes them more productive. Giving remote workers easy and secure access to your network with virtual private network (VPN) technology can result in big savings.
A VPN sets up a private Internet (IP) connection that uses encryption and authentication to protect the communications traversing it. Acting like private and exclusive tunnels from one place to another, VPNs extend your business to wherever it needs to go: home or satellite offices, shared workspaces, coffeehouses, or anywhere else your workers use their laptops, PCs, or IP phones.
VPN technology can reduce your overhead costs for on-site employees; if you use contract workers, you can pare your labour costs too. For example, remote workers don’t require your office space, or the monthly utilities, parking, maintenance, and insurance expenses that go along with it. VPNs let you downsize your facility to the minimum without reducing productivity or customer service.
According to Cisco, the cost to purchase and implement a VPN solution for remote workers depends several factors: the number of VPN users, the degree of redundancy (the backup technology), the type of connectivity (data, video, and/or voice services; software or always-on hardware solutions), and the network security hardware already in place.
Many companies start with basic systems and then later upgrade to solutions that include redundancy and voice service.
 “Driven by the poor economy and the need to cut expenses, companies are turning to telecommuting and virtual offices as a way to lower costs and boost productivity,” writes finance blogger Alan Radding.
Quoting a survey from Aon Consulting, an HR and benefits consulting company, Radding identifies the top benefits respondents see from a virtual office:
  • Increased productivity and performance
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Decreased turnover and job withdrawal
Three of five workers around the world believe they do not need to be in the office anymore to be productive, finds an international workplace study commissioned by Cisco. The study surveyed 2,600 workers and IT professionals in 13 countries. This was especially the case in Asia and Latin America. More than nine of 10 employees in India (93%) said they did not need to be in the office to be productive. This sentiment was extremely prevalent in China (81%) and Brazil (76%) as well.
Workplace Activity Management
Another approach to solving productivity problems in the office is PC monitoring—using the latest Workplace Activity Management software (WAM). According to the Ascentive white paper, a good Workplace Activity Management software is comprehensive and records all system activity (including database exports and files saved), web-surfing, emails, and instant messages in real time, recording screen shots, time used and content.
“Companies seeking to increase productivity and reduce their legal and financial risks can benefit from Workplace Activity Management software. Management can assess, in real time, the level of inefficiency within their organisations, so they can address them and improve their financial bottom line. In addition, once implemented, employers can refocus their energy on growing their business and driving employee productivity,” says the white paper.
About the Author
Melba-Jean Bernad is a contributing editor at CFO Innovation. 


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