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Knowledge Worker Productivity    [Date Added : 10/05/2003 ]
Tom Davenport, Director of the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change and Professor of IT and Management at Babson College, has some interesting things to say about knowledge worker productivity, such as:

- Knowledge work is hard to measure, so most organizations don't bother.

- Although not all knowledge workers are alike, there is no standard classification or segmentation scheme for them.

- There are lots of 'productivity tools' for knowledge workers - too many - but they don't connect well with each other.

- The organizational support for knowledge work is similarly fragmented and comes from a variety of IT organizations, human resources, facilities organizations and so forth.

Davenport suggests one approach for increasing knowledge worker productivity is to integrate the various IT technologies that knowledge workers use. Another IT-related approach is to integrate the various support groups for knowledge worker technologies. At most large organizations today, there's one group to support messaging technologies, one for knowledge management, one for personal productivity applications and perhaps another for help on wireless communications devices. The different groups mean that IT is unlikely to develop an integrated approach to helping knowledge workers use these tools effectively.

Since all knowledge workers aren't alike, Davenport advocates the need to segment them into meaningful categories and apply IT and process improvement approaches differently for each category.

The question is what sort of segmentation scheme to use. Intel, for example, has created one based primarily on behaviors and attitudes towards technology. Its categories are as follows:

- Functionalists: Primarily manufacturing workers (but including some office workers) who use IT occasionally but don't rely heavily on "office IT" to perform their job functions.

- Cube captains: Spend the majority of their time in the office, are very mainstream in their office IT needs and are overall very happy with the tool sets they have.

- Nomads: Heavy users of remote access and mobile IT, whether while traveling or working in remote offices.

- Global collaborators: Interface often with people around the world; they resemble nomads but work across time zones and need access to collaboration tools, anywhere, anytime.

- Tech individualists: They want and adopt early the latest IT tools and are willing to take risks with them.

These categories probably wouldn't be the right categories for all organizations, but Davenport views this approach as a step forward to create and address them. Intel's next step is to put them in the context of business process and business unit needs.

Davenport believes the best way to segment knowledge workers would be by the roles they perform within the organization. Determining whether a knowledge worker is a 'field sales analyst' or a 'mid-level marketing manager' would drive the type of work one does and how it could be done more productively and effectively.

Of course, that will be difficult and perhaps expensive. Most organizations don't even know how many roles they have. Davenport suspects the only role-based segments that might make sense are those in which there are many workers in a single segment, or in which better productivity or performance is mission-critical.

Davenport cites the global telecom company BT as a great example of such a role-based approach. BT has focused considerable effort on its 15,000 customer contact workers. The focus for these workers was less on increased productivity (typically measured in call-handling times) and more on improved customer service through better availability of relevant information and knowledge. BT implemented a new role-specific portal, BT AdvisorSpace, within its customer contact centers.

BT's goal is to make available all needed information and knowledge in real-time while the customer is on the phone - and eventually to bring the relevant information to the screen automatically based on the current customer transaction. Already the new system has led to a several percentage-point increase in customers feeling that their adviser was helpful and knowledgeable (it's at 97 percent now). The advisers' confidence in the information they use is up by 23 percent. According to Davenport, this is a great example of what an organization can accomplish when it focuses its efforts and information resources on a particular role.

Davenport states that there are important ways to improve productivity that don't involve IT. One is to ensure that there are measures of productivity and effectiveness in place (easy in call centers, harder with more autonomous knowledge workers). Another is to develop business process standards such as the Capability Maturity Model I. A third is to treat every intervention into knowledge work as an experiment - with measures, a control group, clear hypotheses about the result and so forth.

Davenport states that he is more confident than ever about the importance - and the difficulty - of addressing the topic of knowledge worker productivity. He believes that it is the 'Next Big Thing.'
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