How to find where lost productivity hides

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Fostering productivity isn’t as simple as creating inspiring work environments, and productivity loss is often hidden in areas where business leaders never think to look.

Maintaining a productive work environment is all about "developing a modern content process," says Dave White, CTO of Quark Enterprise Solutions, a company focused on delivering content automation services. Every business defines content differently, and each company needs the right technology and services from IT in place in order to maintain and encourage productivity.

But that's not typically the case, says White. Businesses typically find themselves losing time and money due to the way they manage content, corporate assets and products. Where most people might think of lost productivity as slacking employees who waste their time on Facebook all day, the real loss comes from outdated systems that simply make employees jobs more difficult -- and that's especially true around your company's internal content and assets, which will vary depending on your industry and department.

"Unless a company has been very proactive in developing a modern content process, it's almost certain they are in an unproductive cycle for their most frequent and valuable content types and process," White says.

[ Relationship story: Why your employees are overworked, burnt out and unmotivated ]

The basics

At its most basic interpretation, White's idea of efficient "content management" can simply mean providing employees with easy access to all the digital files they need to be effective at work. That doesn't mean simply uploading it all to an intranet. White says your internal assets need to be searchable and easy to navigate in order to actually be a "value add" to the company. Otherwise, the service will just sit there, unused, while your employees instead waste time searching for the file they need elsewhere.

"Content production is often one of the last remaining areas of corporate productivity that hasn't been optimized, hence the users, tools and almost entirely manual work processes are the same as they were ten or even twenty years ago," says White.

And in this fast-paced on-demand culture, your customers expect highly tailored products, services and content as soon as possible, says White. But your employees can't deliver that if they aren't working with the latest content management technology. Before you can improve the customer experience, you have to start internally with your employee experience.

"Delivering that type of content experience simply can't be accomplished using desktop word processing and shipping mono-channel files through manual, stove-pipe processes," he says.

Andrzej Dostatni, vice president of Product Development and Delivery at IHS Markit, a company focused on delivering insights in industries like aerospace, defense and security, energy, sustainability, and technology industries, saw positive results implementing a content management system.

Dostatni says IHS grew quickly through a strong acquisition strategy, but notes that it left the business with numerous solutions for content creation and management -- everything from manual process to digital workflows.

"The disconnected approach made it difficult for analysts, authors and designers to collaborate and deliver unified research to clients," he says. The goal became finding a way to consolidate content creation and management across the company so that employees could deliver faster and clients could access an easy-to-use platform to find research terms across every industry.

[ Related story: Don't let stress and a crazy pace kill your culture ]

Start with an audit

You can't expect to fix your content management systems without first understanding how they're broken or ineffective. White suggests starting with an audit of your internal content management systems, which includes looking into who actually uses the systems, who should be using the systems and what those people want out of a more effective process.

Dostatni compares the process to a database performance audit, adding that businesses need to ask questions like, "what are the most important goals and results for our content, where are we missing opportunities, where are we stuck with old process and technologies which do not support modern digital and mobile content requirements, where do our process get slowed down and -- maybe most importantly -- how much work is spent on redundant, automatable tasks which distract our employees from higher-value work?"

White says modern businesses have lost the capability to "do more with the same," or in other words, they no longer look at how to take current in-house resources and refocus them to help create a better employee and customer experience. He says businesses need to focus on creating intuitive interactive environments or -- at the very least -- automating "repetitive, low value work" to free up employees to focus on higher-level projects using the resources they already have.

Through an audit, Dostatni's company found that it needed to provide more structure around storing documents, allowing users to preview multiple formats of the same piece of content, making it easier to search through metadata and taxonomies, better handling of content from external sources, integrating a more efficient workflow process and also ensuring the platform would scale for global use. "Our approach was more to provide better quality, well-structured content, better search and navigation and 'answers' vs long multi page PDF to customers. So in some cases we actually increased workload but in the benefit of better product," he says.

Analyze productivity

In today's modern workplace, you can't simply measure productivity by how many employees are sitting at their desks. You might have some workers on flexible schedules, others who work remote or even an employee who comes in every day and sits at their desk, but isn't being as effective as they can be.

Instead, White says to set metrics to measure productivity against -- first set a baseline, and then continuously measure results against it. But for any business leader that has tried to do this, you know it isn't exactly easy, since job requirements can vary widely, and what one person considers a worthwhile metric, another may not.

"This is especially true for knowledge workers -- the very employee most engaged in the content management process -- when their work is often multi-dimensional," he says.

Dostatni attributes much of the success of a company-wide content management strategy at IHS to the fact that it automates much of the process, taking away more tedious tasks. As the system grew more successful throughout the company, employees found they could easily reuse content and repurpose it in a variety of formats -- saving time and increasing efficiency.

Embrace automation

One solution White offers is to build a content management system with baked-in analytics. Pick something that offers tools that can track and report on trends around productivity. That way, you can review more unbiased data around company productivity to learn which initiatives work best, and which ones to abandon.

Through automation, you can also free up your workers to focus on more intensive and innovative projects. The time they spend doing manual tasks or duplicating efforts can be spent on what White calls "value-added production steps."

It's also important to consider the tools you do choose to deploy and not shift back and forth the between focusing on enterprise-wide tools and department focused tools. "We are currently in a department focus as cloud-hosted software and the promise of open, cloud-APIs for integration makes it easier for each department to choose and implement what is best for themselves," says White.

But he suggests that business leaders consider what approach will be the most effective and scalable for the company, whether it's focusing on departments or the entire business. However, for the most part, he recommends choosing tools that can work across departments, while still serving specific needs.

"It's useful to consider most cross-company, scalable and repetitive content processes -- through a content audit -- to identify the commonality and uniqueness of each area's needs. While fast and limited has short-term value, using a common base of tools means that customizing, implementing, deploying, supporting, and training can be handled by the same resources, and therefore a company can scale easier and faster," he says.

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