Mind the productivity gap

I wonder how we should measure the value of IT. Listen to the latest news from the big players and it seems they are all selling a different way for you or your business to improve efficiency and be more productive.

But I doubt many people have the figures that prove categorically that an IT implementation has increased productivity by a certain percentage. There are too many variables: the productivity of internal staff; changes to related business processes and the way external partners work; the nature of the business, the underlying economic climate…

To put a value on IT’s contribution is tricky. The IT industry sells us the idea of increased productivity. I think this is bending reality somewhat.

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The unanswered question about the value of IT is inexorably leading us to focus on what people do with IT, not on the IT itself. The companies who are successful at creating value from IT have either explicit or implicit strategies for IT that focus on the exploitation of IT investments - in contrast to the orthodox IT strategies of the past that focused on IT design and delivery. They don't bother about 'putting a value on IT' (which is not the same as saying that they don't see the value of their IT investments) as they know it is a meaningless quest.

The so-called "productivity paradox" was identified twenty years ago, and it won't go away until we stop focusing narrowly on IT and start thinking instead about proper information systems.

In academic terms, IT is merely the physical manifestation/ application of Computer Science to the "real" world.

But the corollary to the Computer Science affiliation is that IT can only ever be used to capture, store, move and modify data, IT does not actually create or transform information.

The creation of information from data always requires human intervention and attribution of meaning, within the context of an information system (which generally involves appropriate IT for its facilitation).

Measuring the influence of IT investment on productivity is tough, but not impossible.

Computer Weekly has already discussed the topic and published

opinion from a leader in the field who's done some good research on it. Lindsay Clark