No need to tolerate a terminal go slow

28 Jun 17

Are your IT systems slow? If you have to think about it, the answer is almost certainly “yes”.

Are your IT systems slow? If you have to think about it, the answer is almost certainly “yes”.

 

A friend working in central government recently complained to me about the systems his department uses. The crux of his moan was it takes about 20 minutes to log on and become productive. If he works remotely, he usually has to contact the helpdesk and lose a further 30-40 minutes. Then, when the systems are operating, they are slow and outdated. 

Yet, when his team was asked to find savings and productivity improvements, and suggested that improving IT could boost productivity by 5-10%, they were told: “We can’t fix IT – focus on what you control.” I lit the blue touch paper by saying I had attended a presentation where their IT team had talked about the “great new systems” that they had introduced.

Islington Council’s parking service had a similar problem. Its 160 users were constantly complaining the system was slow. The council brought in a specialist company,  which started with a user survey. They used simple questions such as: how often do you use the system? Do you find it usable? Do you actually report the slowness? There was also a free field where employees could add comments. 

The system was reported to be “slow” or “very slow” most of the time. Staff were working late to compensate and didn’t bother reporting it because it never got fixed. Lost time was costing nearly £300,000 a year. This gave the department a business case to fund more specialist diagnostics and the leverage to get the problem fixed.

The problem is usually that the IT supplier or in-house IT department does not know how to fix the issue or recognise there is one as users stop reporting slow systems. The application provider blames the network, the network manager blames the internet connection, and the internet service provider blames the security system or something similar. 

Usually, the only way to fix slowness is to bring in a specialist organisation that uses a range of diagnostic tools to dig deep into the systems, monitor performance and identify the problems. Organisations then often discover that relatively quick and inexpensive tweaks have a massive impact on performance. 

More importantly, active monitoring and measurement drive improvements. As management guru Peter Drucker says: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” 

For directors of finance, there are four issues: first, losing perhaps 5%-10% of productive time is a huge waste of resources. Second, this affects morale, as slow systems sap energy, encourage lethargy and introduce displacement activities. Third, compliance is undermined if it is easier to make notes in a spreadsheet or on paper than wait for a page to load. Finally, good customer service is undermined when web pages refuse to load and contact centre staff say they are “waiting for the systems”.

When you turn on the power, does your “ship” surge into life or shudder? Directors of finance would not be expected to know how the engine works or to diagnose why it is slow. But most would want to have a speedometer and basic engine gauges to rate performance. 

  • John Thornton
    John Thornton

    John Thornton is the director of e-ssential Resources and an independent adviser on business transformation, financial management and innovation.

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