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Humans vs. the Machines: Managing the Modern Workplace

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Earlier this year I read about a particularly strange case of corporate sabotage – a disgruntled worker at Frost and Sullivan was finally caught after a three year period of repeating squirting Cillit Bang cleaning fluid into the company’s IT system. The employee in question caused over £32,000 worth of damage as well as untold levels of disruption to the business. In the end, it emerged the motive was as simple as being passed over for a pay rise.

I found the above case to be fascinating and a vivid illustration of one of the business world’s most modern issues –the delicate act of juggling both the management of technology with the needs, interests and welfare of employees. Both play an essential role in ensuring the smooth running of an organisation but understanding when to prioritise one over the other often leads to difficulty. 

From an organisational standpoint it’s become very clear that businesses are more reliant on technology than ever before. And thanks to the increase in customer demand for a 24/7 level of service this is unlikely to change. Technology plays a key in ensuring that your enterprise remains available to everyone from customers and stakeholders through to employees.

It’s important, however, to ensure that workers do not feel displaced by this growing dependency on technology – after all, a business without its staff is nothing more than an empty office. Any management strategy needs to take a holistic view, where the integration of technology is done within the context of its impact on the workforce.

Collaboration: The Route to Office Harmony

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The IT department holds the key. Previously considered as a necessary evil within the organisation, IT can now be wielded as a weapon for growth. Our recent research found that a massive 97 per cent of business decision makers believed that closer alignment between business departments and IT would yield a competitive advantage. This could be in improving operational efficiency, saving cash or even opening up new revenue streams. Close collaboration with the CIO is vital to ensure that the business’ IT infrastructure is able to get the best out of its employees.

The first step is ensuring that the IT department is not held in isolation but is considered as an extension of each individual department (whether that is finance, HR or marketing). Technology is not valuable in itself (as an employee is) but is merely a means to a business outcome and as such the IT department’s performance should be measured alongside the business as a whole. Have they managed to increase the efficiency, agility or cost effectiveness of the entire organisation?

The question is no longer one of ‘balancing’ technology and employees but is about recognising that close collaboration between the two can make the business more than the sum of its parts.

Change Comes From Within

Interestingly, these leaps in the capability of IT are not being driven by the CIO but are coming from the end-user. The consumerisation of IT (most significantly in the rise of the smart phone and home computer) has allowed employees greater influence over working practices. Employees are shaping business technology, which in turn is changing corporate culture. The increasing popularity of the ‘bring-your-own-device’ policies are testament to this: the idea of employees plugging personal devices into the system and taking mission critical data outside the office runs against every belief the CIO holds. The practice, however, is becoming commonplace in the enterprise and is perfect example of CIOs collaborating with employees in order to help them work as effectively as possible.

As Isaac Asimov, American author and professor of biochemistry, famously said; “I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.” What was true then carries even more weight now, as we become more dependent on technology and IT, in both our business and personal lives. This obviously brings with it potential benefits such as all-time availability, truly mobile operations and new ways of working, but also a significant shift and period of transition, to which we will all need to adapt.

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