Growing through Productivity Increases

Productivity is an economic concept that is discussed in the press quite often.  Growing through productivity increases occurs when the quantity of inputs declines, to produce a measure of output.  The sub-set that is referred to is labor productivity, i.e. the amount of labor required to produce a measure of output.  The importance of the statistic is based on its relationship to growth.  If productivity increases, so does economic growth, to some extent.

When an individual states that they are going to become more productive, it usually relates to a desire to increase their organizational habits and improve their time management.  Essentially they are looking to increase their efficiency (inputs), to do a better job (output).  The result is a benefit associated with time saved.

At the company level, when productivity improves, fewer resources are being used to produce the output.  Fewer resources equates to lower production costs, which translates to excess funds in the form of profits, for reinvestment into the business or distribution to investors.  Following are strategies companies employ to increase productivity.

Automation – For a manufacturer this relates to purchasing a machine to make better widgets faster.  However for a service this improvement relates to the efficient storage of information that can be shared and accessed by any department in the organization.  This information will be used for order fulfillment or reporting.  This approach can be costly and time consuming.  If you wish to utilize this strategy, please review “Tips to Mitigate Technology Implementation Challenges.”

Process Improvement – Most processes work best when there is consistency.  Variations in activities and manual processes create a higher probability of error and expose the organization to unnecessary risks and time wasting.  The task of mapping out processes and documenting policies and procedures makes you critically look at the process and identify how things may be accomplished more efficiently, i.e. understand bottlenecks, remove inefficiencies, remove bureaucracy.  If you wish to utilize this strategy, please review “Process Improvement to Eliminate/Contain Non-Value Added Costs in the Services Industry.”

Business Management – As the business grows, so does the complexity of the business. More decisions require more analysis. There are increasing fixed and variable cost considerations and cash flow becomes more important to understand and manage.  Success begins with Strategy and Planning; and subsequently ongoing measuring and reporting.  When Accounting Management, Financial Management; and Risk Management are all optimized and running efficiently; business development can be performed without reservation.  If you wish to utilize this strategy, please review “The Frequency of Best Practices with Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

The previously mentioned strategies of Automation, Process Improvement and Business Management have historically been the drivers of productivity increases.  But I predict that in the next five years, two additional strategies will emerge as drivers of productivity increases.

Labor Support and Development – High labor turnover is wasteful to any business.  Filling an open position is costly – posting a job; interviewing candidates; hiring an individual; and training the individual.  Once you obtain the right employee, a business should do as much as possible to keep the employee.  A business should invest in an employee, as long as the value received from the employee exceeds the investment by the company in that employee.  Some ways organizations invest in their employees include – providing financial support for job related training; considering non-standard work arrangements; ensuring compensation is at the market rate; and supporting retirement and health care benefits.  From the time the Great Recession began in December 2007, until it officially ended in June 2009, employees continually lost benefits including training and retirement benefits.  Companies that return to pre-recession benefits will experience a jump in morale, sooner than competitors.    For an example of how to utilize this strategy, please review “The Value Embedded in Tele-Commuting.”

A recent example of the support to labor includes – “Blackstone Group LP said Wednesday that it is extending its maternity leave benefits from 12 weeks at full pay to 16 weeks. The move, announced in a memo to employees, is designed in part to help the company compete for talented Wall Street women.”  Lauren Weber and Ryan Dezember.  “Why Blackstone Is Giving New Moms More Time Off” Wall Street Journal Online.  The Wall Street Journal, 22 April 2015.

Data Management – The ability to read data, i.e. Big Data, to understand how to best allocate company resources efficiently, should be a large driver of productivity in the future.  The firm combines price, product, place and promotion in the hope of finding the appropriate relationship to appeal to the target market.  The degree at which these variables are manipulated is based on available data, i.e. geographic assumptions and customer qualities within the geography.   As reported in Game changers: Five opportunities for US growth and renewal a McKinsey Global Institute study (July 2013), “Amazon has taken cross-selling to a new level with sophisticated predictive algorithms that prompt customers with recommendations for related products, services, bundled promotions, and even dynamic pricing; its recommendation engine reportedly drives 30 percent of sales.  But most retailers are still in the earliest stages of implementing these technologies and have achieved best-in-class performance only in narrow functions, such as merchandising or promotions.” (page 75)

In conclusion, firms focused on improving productivity should consider implementing Automation, Process Improvement and Business Management enhancements, as these are proven strategies; as well as additionally incorporating newer opportunities in the areas of Labor Support and Development and Data Management techniques.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Tips to Mitigate Technology Implementation Challenges

Companies continually look for ways to reduce costs, facilitate sales, and increase customer satisfaction.  While there are a multitude of specific approaches that could be utilized to address each issue, all three of these objectives could be achieved at the same time through automation.  Production systems serve to increase sales efficiency and introduce cross-sell opportunities; while the implementation of back office systems serve to drive support efficiencies and remove non-value added costs.  Efficiencies that improve the sales process and/or the customer service process will result in increased customer satisfaction.

But, prior to searching for the best enterprise system solution for your business needs, establish your preliminary budget.  Consider licensing fees, development costs (external and internal), as well as the conversion costs.  Compute your expected Return on Investments (ROI), which is the ratio of income generated less dollars invested, over dollars invested in a process or product financed, to stimulate the growth of the company.  This statistic should be used to ensure that your financial resources are being allocated to growth opportunities with the highest returns.  As you get closer to selecting the new technology, these numbers should be revised.

Just keep in mind, any change in your business model will cause a certain level of disruption, regardless of the size of the system to be implemented.  If not executed correctly, the new system may cost you more than you expected, both today and in the future.  Proper planning is critical.  In my experience, the top issues which raise the cost of the development are consistent across different platforms, and not specific to the size of the company.  These are common issues associated with all technology implementations.

Issue #1 – Customization – When an off the shelf enterprise system is purchased or leased, a certain amount of customization will be required.  This customization serves to ensure a clear identification of features for the users, within the application, in the terms common to the business.  Another area that requires customization is the development of reports specific to managing the business or responding to client needs.  But all customization requires development time, that quickly raises the price of the new technology.  Be sure that the requested customizations are required.  Differentiate “nice to have” from “need to have.”  Negotiate and budget for this start-up expense.

Issue #2 – Integration – It is not uncommon for a business to be composed of a few systems with no integration.  This situation occurs when a business is growing and different departments purchase technology for their own areas, not considering the greater business.  This situation also is common for larger companies that recently experienced a merger.  It becomes obvious quickly, that different departments of the new business cannot communicate clearly with each other, as they are not all on the same platform.  Ensure that any new system is integrated within the company, satisfying the needs of a few departments.  At the very least, there should be integration between your productions system and financial system.  Integration requires development time and quickly raises the price of the new technology.

Issue #3 – Data Quality – When introducing new systems or upgrades, information maintained in either a legacy system or a homegrown database may be incomplete and inconsistent.  Information clean-up is time consuming and has an internal cost.  But correcting deficiencies today is a worthwhile project, vs. perpetuating issues in your new technology application.

Following are “best practices” to avoid these issues or at least reduce the negative impacts associated with implementing and managing new technology within your business –

Understand your Technology Needs – Assess the current needs of your customers (internal or external); while also considering their future needs.  This step may include surveys and focus groups with the users.  Flowchart the process today and identify what happens when things occur without issue.  Analyze the flow.  Are processes as efficient as they could be?  Now consider the experience when breakage(s) occur.  At what point in the flow does it happen?  How can this situation be avoided?

During this process, continue to consider user acceptance. If your system is not intuitive, external users may not wish to use it; and internal users may not transition to the new platform quickly, making conversion a long and drawn out process.

The output of this analysis should be reviewed with key stakeholders to gather their thoughts and views.  The result of this task will be a clear understanding of the business needs.  Document this information.

Next, issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to service providers.  There are very few processes where there is not more than one supplier.  Send the RFP to at least three providers.

Develop a relationship that compliments your business – When considering a technology solution; the vendor relationship is as important as the technology being purchased/leased.  Prior to entering into any relationship, keep in mind, that there are common risks inherent with all vendors –

  • Employee quality – vendor employees requiring special knowledge, licensing, certification;
  • Privacy policy – sharing information regarding your processes and procedures, as well as customer information;
  • Business continuity – impact of a disruption in your vendor’s business on you; and,
  • Service quality – impact on your internal and external customers.

Establishing your requirements and how you will work with the vendor, prior to entering into a relationship, would be time well spent.

If the technology fits your needs; if the vendor will be a good partner for your business; and if the final budget and ROI are acceptable – it is time to draft the contract and statement of work.

As stated previously, proper planning associated with the integration of a new enterprise solution will ensure your selection satisfies the process improvement and cost containment needs of your business within the established budget, while achieving the required ROI.

I wrote this article for CIO Review Magazine-Corporate Finance Technology Special 2014 (April 2014)  The story can be found on page 50.


Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.