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How Tool Consolidation Improves Visibility

There once was a time when managers needed just one thing in order to oversee and evaluate team productivity. Dating back to the supervisor sitting in an elevated perch overlooking the manufacturing room floor — the power of observation. The transition to a digital economy means work is less tactile, less concrete, less visible. This requires a new way of seeing.

Yes, back in the day, a newspaper editor could look around the newsroom and easily spot which employees were industriously clacking away on their typewriters. The factory foreman could stand on the catwalk and monitor the pace of production, spotting process and equipment breakdowns almost immediately. The owner of the woodworking shop could physically count the number of cabinets completed at the end of the week.

Today, managers and executives who oversee digital work struggle to find a tangible way of monitoring progress toward strategic goals. Physical observation won’t tell you whether or not knowledge workers are on task — or on social media. There’s rarely anything that can be physically counted to measure productivity. And when processes break down, it’s not often apparent until deadlines and budgets are in mortal danger.

Software to the Rescue?

Luckily, there are many digital solutions to this uniquely digital challenge, and they all promise you improved optics at work. Some of them even deliver on that promise.

The real problem arises when you have a dozen different tools installed — not all of which play nicely with each other — and you’re stuck toggling from one application to another, copying the same data into multiple solutions, and checking system after system to find the information you need. According to a 2014 survey I cited in a previous MarTech Advisor article about visibility and productivity, 60% of marketers use anywhere from six different software programs to “so many they’ve lost count” during the course of the day.

With this many tools in play, the only way to assemble a complete picture of how your work is going is to manually piece it together.

How does this hurt visibility? If you rely on a handful of solutions that each offer a small slice of transparency into different aspects of your work (e.g., a task manager that shows completed and in-progress tasks, a time tracking solution that shows hours invested per project and client, communication and instant messaging apps that archive conversations), you still have less visibility than the factory foreman up on that observation platform 30 years ago, despite the superior technology at your fingertips. The problem gets worse when the data you present doesn’t match the data being presented by someone from another department. Who’s right? You have no single vantage point from which to view, or present, the status and results of your work.

The Inevitability of Tool Consolidation

As technology advances, contraction and consolidation is a natural evolution. Do you remember when people used to carry around a flip phone for calls and texting, a Blackberry for emailing on-the-go, an iPod or other music player, an address book, a day planner or calendar, a newspaper or magazine, a calculator, and perhaps a separate digital camera and camcorder? Not to mention the map, flashlight, compass, and GPS in the car.

Now all of those functions have been consolidated into a single device that fits in your pocket.

Workfront CTO Steve ZoBell recently drew my attention to a 1991 RadioShack ad featuring 13 different devices, from an all-weather stereo to an answering machine, that have been replaced by the smartphone. As the blogger who discovered the ad pointed out:

“You’d have spent $3054.82 in 1991 to buy all the stuff in this ad that you can now do with your phone. That amount is roughly equivalent to about $5,100 in today’s dollars.”

Translating this phenomenon to knowledge workers today, why would you use a bunch of niche tools, with separate purchase, maintenance, and training requirements to get your work done, when there’s comprehensive work management software available that performs all of those functions and more inside one intuitive system? Is that really any different from walking around in the year 2017 with a flip phone and Walkman clipped to your belt and a camera around your neck — when your competition all has iPhones?

When to Replace and Consolidate

You might appreciate the idea of consolidating more functions inside fewer tools and even long for the improved optics you’d enjoy as a result. And yet, your team has grown accustomed to the solutions they currently use, and it just seems like such an ordeal to replace any of them.

Honestly, I wouldn’t suggest doing so unless you can find one new tool that replaces several existing systems — OR, as business strategist Jay Baer recommends, you find a solution that is truly different from everything else you’re using: “If the new package adds something that you do not have covered at all today, that is software you should consider.”

Now remember, I’m the CMO of a company that is in the business of selling software, but Jay’s point is an important one. Baer continues, “If you are going to replace an existing software tool, the new tool must be a lot better than the old one and/or significantly less expensive. Otherwise, the staff time, hassle, loss of momentum and other ‘switching costs’ make it unlikely that the change is going to be worth it — at least in the short term.”

If you find a comprehensive tool that allows you to jettison a handful of your current disconnected tools, thus concentrating your visibility into a single solution, that would certainly meet Baer’s “a lot better” and “significantly less expensive” criteria.

Any time you’re considering a new solution, however, make sure it’s compatible with the other tools and applications you plan to keep in the mix. The last thing you need is one more specialized tool to manage that creates as many visibility problems as it solves.

The Promise of Improved Visibility

You can’t effectively manage what you can’t clearly see. And the only way to gain visibility into digital work is through digital means.

This leaves you with two broad choices: You can gather small slices of visibility from multiple specialized tools and then mentally stitch them together to create a patchwork picture of where things stand, and then toggle between all of those tools to manage the disparate aspects of your work. Or you can onboard a comprehensive work management solution that not only provides a clear and reliable vantage point, but also the ability to manage and control everything from one integrated interface.

In today’s digital economy, knowledge is power. And when work is less tactile and concrete than it has ever been before, knowledge depends upon visibility. So, how’s your view?

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisor

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