What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.
When employees go social: Do you know what your employees are doing online? Come next May, Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong won’t have any trouble answering that question. That’s when 100,000 computers used by the city-state’s civil servants will be disconnected from the Internet. The government is taking this drastic action to “tighten security,” writes tech editor Irene Tham in The Straits Times.
Being of a cynical bent, I think that eliminating employee access to Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms might give Singapore’s government a nice bump in productivity, too. But I might be wrong, according to a report from the Pew Research Center that delves into the use of social media in the workplace.
“Today’s workers incorporate social media into a wide range of activities while on the job,” explain Pew Center researcher Kenneth Olmstead and University of Michigan School of Information professors Cliff Lampe and Nicole Ellison. “Some of these activities are explicitly professional or job-related, while others are more personal in nature.”
Sure, their survey says — ding! — that the number one reason why American workers use social media at work (34% of respondents) is “to take a mental break from their job.” Moreover, reason number two (27% of respondents) is to “connect with friends and family while at work.” But then comes a list that might make your inner CEO perk up a bit: 24% of the respondents use social media at work to foster professional connections; 20% to help them solve work problems; 17% to foster relationships with co-workers and/or learn more about them; and 12% to ask work-related questions of people outside their organization and/or inside their organization.
So, maybe your company shouldn’t follow Singapore’s lead. Anyway, aren’t all those civil servants simply gonna go all Hillary Clinton with their personal devices?
Cutting the cost of sales with technology: The sales function jumped on the technology bandwagon early on, adopting CRM and other sales management software from companies like Salesforce.com, which has been around for 17 years now (notwithstanding its famously anemic, when not altogether non-existent, net income). The new frontier for sales technologies, according to an article by McKinsey consultants Bertil Chappuis and Brian Selby, is now operations — specifically, the re-engineering, automation, and optimization of sales processes and support resources to reduce the cost of sales.
“A strong sales-operations function can … drive revenue growth by reducing the time reps spend on various administrative tasks, speeding up the sales process, and improving the experience for the customer,” write Chappuis and Selby. “In our experience, companies that build world-class sales-operations functions can realize one-time improvements of 20-30% in sales productivity, with sustained annual increases as high as 5-10% in some cases.”
How can your company grab these gains? The pair calls out of four hallmarks of the successful sales-operations organizations. First, they say, focus on “designing and implementing programs or process improvements that reduce the non-value-added work for sellers and provide them with insights and services that improve both the time spent with customers and the effectiveness of their interactions.” Second, empower sales-operations leaders — getting them to run pipeline, forecast, and business reviews; lead planning clinics; drive customer-segmentation, capacity-planning, rostering, and quota-setting processes; and “harness the power of advanced analytics.” Third, centralize core sales-operations functions, such as “proposal generation, reporting and analytics, and CRM help-desk support,” into low-cost locations. And finally, get the right talent in place to convince the rest of company that sales operations actually add value, instead of overhead.
MS CEO Nadella on AI values: It’s good fun to argue about whether advanced machine learning is going to be a tremendous benefit or a horrific bane for humankind, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says we shouldn’t get so sidetracked that we forget the real issue. “I would argue that perhaps the most productive debate we can have isn’t one of good versus evil: The debate should be about the values instilled in the people and institutions creating this technology,” he writes in a Future Tense article on Slate.
Nadella proposes a handful for principles — values, really — to guide AI development. AI should be designed to assist humanity, he writes. Its workings must be transparent. It must maximize efficiencies without destroying the dignity of people. It must be designed for intelligent privacy — sophisticated protections that secure personal and group information in ways that earn trust. AI must have algorithmic accountability so that humans can undo unintended harm. And finally, it must guard against bias, ensuring proper and representative research so that the wrong heuristics cannot be used to discriminate.
These are admirable points that are worthy of adoption, and Nadella could have extended them beyond AI designers and builders. The vast majority of corporate execs won’t have anything to say about how to make learning machines, but they will decide when and how to put those machines to work. And, it seems obvious that the values that guide their AI decision making will be just as important as the organizational values that currently guide their behavior and the behavior of their employees.