Solving the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’

Alex Osborne Profile picture for user Alex Osborne June 13, 2019
Alex Osborne, Senior Director at ServiceNow, puts forward a proposal for how organisations - and the economy as a whole - could receive a much needed productivity boost.

Image of a map of the UK

This time last year, The Economist stated that “weak productivity is Britain’s biggest economic problem—bigger, even, than the prospect of Brexit”. While that situation may have shifted in the past 12 months as Brexit has dominated the headlines, the fact remains that sluggish productivity still persists as one of the UK’s biggest economic challenges.

Since the financial crisis in 2008, the UK has averaged a measly 0.2% in productivity growth per year. In addition, UK workers are 16.3% less productive on average than those in other G7 nations, according to the most up to date figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The economic effects of this stagnation are hugely negative—suppressing growth and wages, while also raising the costs of goods and services.

One of the key barriers to better productivity growth is the poor adoption of new business technologies by many UK companies. Indeed, in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 ‘Technological Readiness’ report the UK is ranked only 20th, behind the likes of Canada, South Korea, Germany, and even Estonia.

More colourfully, a report commissioned by Amazon a couple of years ago suggested that more than one in five UK businesses are still regularly using fax machines to support their operations.

In contrast to this rather depressing picture, ServiceNow has proven (using quantified business outcome figures derived from methodology developed by Forrester Consulting) that intelligent, digital workflows can deliver a 20% productivity gain when applied to the work of IT professionals.

Similar benefits are also achievable in other, comparable, service-based professions if digital workflows replace routine, time-intensive tasks like responding to common customer enquiries, HR requests, filing and basic issue resolution.

There is a potentially huge swathe of the economy where digital workflows can bring significant (and relatively easy to achieve) productivity gains to employees and employers.

Indeed, when we analyse ONS figures, there are 5.7 million workers in the UK (16% of the total workforce) carrying out roles in service-centred professions that have the potential to benefit from intelligent digital workflows. This includes roles across financial services, customer services, IT, legal, HR and facilities management.

Productivity gains at Experian

As an example, ServiceNow has worked closely with Experian to modernise its IT service management and consumerize its employee experience to deliver new productivity gains. Previously the company had an unnecessarily complex and inflexible IT services set up, built up over many years and acquisitions, with a multitude of disparate technologies and processes.

This resulted in clunky, painful processes that employees had to battle with – rather than seamless experiences. For example, rather than having immediate access to clean, high-quality data, service teams at Experian had to bring together data from various tools and spreadsheets to be normalised and sanitised for analysis – a laborious and time-consuming task.

Equally, for many of Experian’s employees, the only direct interaction they may have with IT is when they need to ask for something through a request portal. However, even some of the basic functions were long, slow, and inappropriate, so it took too long to log a ticket. And for the service desk team the experience was just as bad – all client calls were assigned as incidents, with agents trying to complete fields that either weren’t relevant or that they didn’t have information for.

These are exactly the sort of mundane tasks that are easy to overlook when it comes to ‘productivity’, but there are huge amounts of time sunk into these tasks at every company every day. The key to changing this dynamic with digital workflows is deploying a single platform that integrates every business function – enabling enterprises to break down silos and automate processes across departments, to diagnose and resolve issues faster, and to give anytime, anywhere access to services from any department.

Giving the economy a boost

Using digital workflows, businesses can swiftly remove manual, repetitive tasks from these 5.7 million workers to expand their capabilities, and therefore create new value. Indeed, applying the 20% productivity uplift to those 5.7 million workers alone has the potential to boost the UK’s Gross Value Added (GVA), a key measure of productivity, by £64.6 billion.

This would obviously represent a significant injection of dynamism and growth in the UK economy.  

Indeed, only 12 weeks after deploying the Now Platform, Experian was co-ordinating over 52,000 service requests from more than 12,000 global employees using digital workflows.

And the productivity gains were significant. Rather than battling through a complex and confusing incident form, simple requests can now be logged and resolved in seconds – with the resolution time reduced by over 50% in more complex situations.

ServiceNow has also enabled Experian to change the way service desk tickets are categorised, to ensure the most appropriate resolution workflows are used. Many of the calls can be straightforward to resolve, like a password reset, but agents can quickly convert these to an incident if needed and automatically transfer them to a relevant support group. Again, this removes hours of wasted time and effort that the previously complex work processes required to direct requests to the right team.

As this analysis shows, liberating people from manual, repetitive tasks isn’t just about making them happier and more fulfilled (although this is a notable benefit). Digital workflows help workers become significantly more productive, infinitely more valuable, and engines of growth.

A boost of £65 billion for the UK economy is entirely within reach—businesses just need to grasp the nettle.

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