If there is one lesson many technology professionals need to learn is that you must always ensure the technology activities are aligned with the business goals and objectives. At first this seems easy, but in the vast majority of the cases, technologists are not looking to the fundamental business needs. Technologists tend to focus at the project or program level and not at the larger impact to the business. The primary drivers for business can be distilled down to productivity and revenue, and technologists need to understand how their projects and activities impact those two areas to have consistent success in delighting clients and managing their careers. In this first part of the examining the relationship between technology and business, the impact to productivity will be explored.
Do more with less is a simple statement, but it has significant ramifications for businesses. Successful businesses have to keep tight eye on costs and want to find the equilibrium of just the right amount of resources to produce the output demanded without causing issues in the output that would reduce revenue. Resource expenses include labor, recurring technology costs, office space, capital expenditures, etc… Every technology activity at a business will have a direct impact to productivity in some fashion.
Businesses expect to improve operational efficiency year over year, which will result in productivity gains. Typically a company will decide how they want to apply those gains by either reducing operational costs or investing in new work activities to help drive new revenue or further productivity gains. Unfortunately, this does often lead to a reduction in force if the business has not identified new activities for surplus labor to take on or if the skillsets of the labor do not match what is needed for the new work. Surplus labor may b allocated to new work activities to further increase productivity, but eventually the gains will be realized by reducing expenses to improve margins, pay out dividends, etc…
So how does technology play into this? Let’s look at an example of a current technology being applied to a common business problem:
ACME Co, has enlisted its technology partner, Blue Co, to automate its help desk through the use of the Microsoft Bot Framework. Based on a use case analysis, the bot should be able to reduce tickets that need human intervention by 30-40%.
On the surface this seems like a straightforward project that will yield good results for Acme and the users of the help desk. However, much more detail is needed to fully understand the impact of this project on the productivity of the business. For the sake of analysis, we will assume the majority of the calls are for password resets and related issues (which is actually very typical in the real world). Here is some additional information that will needed to do a full analysis of the impacts to productivity of this project:
- Average cost to the company per call to the help desk.
- Average cost of labor for the callers to the help desk
- How much is the partner charging to build the system
- The frequency and clustering of the calls over time (any externalities causing patterns such as quarterly updates?)
- Any future technology rollouts that would impact the frequency of the calls (For example, biometric security?)
- How much will it cost to communicate to the help desk users that they should use the bot?
- How effective will the communication be and how resistant to change will the user base be?
- Any new recurring costs for the bot deployment (cloud costs, networking, etc..)
Lets look at an extreme example where Acme’s primary callers to the help desk are lawyers that bill $450 a hour and the help desk employees cost the company $15 a hour. In a typical year, there are 10,000 calls to the help desk to reset passwords. The communication costs are fixed at $0.10 cents a minute. Current call analysis shows that when a lawyer calls the help desk for a password reset it takes approximately 90 seconds for the agent to verbally verify the identity of the lawyer an reset the password. It is shown that lawyers that were shown the bot take approximately 60 seconds to utilize the bot to do the password reset (they have to open a browser, navigate to the bot, and proceed through several security questions). The cost to host and support the bot is fixed at $10,000 a year
So the initial cost of a password reset for a call versus the bot would be:
($15 + $450) / (3600 * 90) + (.10 * 1.5) = $11.78 * 10,000 = $117,800 year
$450 / 3600 * 60 + (10,000 / $10,000) = $8.50 * 10,000 = $85,000 year
The cost per year has been reduced 28% which adds up to a yearly cost savings of $32,800 if we can fully realize the productivity by reducing help desk agent hours worked (either by reducing staff levels or hours given to existing staff)). Blue Co., is charging a development fee of $20,000 to build and fully deploy the bot in 90 days. Internal communications is expected to cost $5000. So it appears the help desk bot will have a quick turnaround on ROI of less than 12 months after it is deployed.
Everything looks good! Or does it? Lets take a look at this analysis again when taking into account these factors:
- Similar rollouts have shown only 75% of users will utilize the new system after a year and the remaining 25% will insist on calling the helpdesk for issues that could be resolved by the bot.
- Acme Co, is rolling out Windows 10 within the next 18 months and looks to have its deployment complete within 24 months to be lined up with its next hardware refresh. The simplified bio-metric security is expected to reduce password reset related issues by over 90%.
Users behavior patterns can be very consist across companies and industries, so lets revisit our financial outlook with projected user behavior taken into account.
Our costs of operating the bot now become:
($11.78 * 2500) + ($8.50 * 7500) = $93,200 year
Our yearly cost savings have now dropped to $24,600 a year. Our total development and internal communication costs are $25,000 so now it will take just over a year for the project to deliver a return on the initial investment if everything goes right and there are no delays or variance in user behavior. However, we have the Windows 10 rollout starting within 18 months and is expected to be complete in 24 months. This means that the bot project only has a full 6 months of actual returns, with almost all returns of the project eliminated 6 months after that.
If you were a business analyst or program manager at Acme Co, what would you now do with the bot automation project after running the above analysis. The decision is pretty clear that the bot project is a very low return on investment once all the other information is taken into account. Even if Acme Co is looking at using automation of the help desk as a first step into utilization of bots, it would still make sense to find another area to use the technology that will have longer usefulness and productivity returns.
Many projects are proposed and even completed with only completing the initial part of the analysis. In many cases the people doing the analysis may not have access or knowledge of the other activities going on in the business that will impact the ultimate value of the project. This is why it is important to dig deeper when analyzing the business impact of a project and recognize when you don’t have all the necessary information to gauge the true impact of the project.
Coming Soon: Part 2 – Discussion on revenue.