May 20

New technology for improved productivity 

According to an article by Suresh Rangarajan, Head of Communications at Tata Motors, in the past decade we have created several new tools and platforms to transform our business environments to be more efficient, productive and cost-effective. It’s become a tidal wave

Today, we hold advanced computing capabilities in our pockets. The smartphone is the first piece. For the end user, it has been life-changing. We can order food, book a cab, buy a shoe, navigate in a new city, and connect with friends at the click of a button.

Businesses that are using technologies like automation are achieving faster engagement, in-house communication, better focus on strategic priorities, and lastly a better project completion rate.

Just consider how payments were accepted in the past. Businesses had to manually deal with each individual client/ customer to complete a transaction. Today, payments are just a few taps away. With mobile wallets that reside as apps in phones, paying for products and selling them has got so much easier. That’s just one of the products on the modern technological revolution.

Five prominent technologies

  1. Internet of Things – (IoT): Research by IEEE suggests that we will have more than 50 million connected devices by the year 2020. These devices include smartphones, smart TVs, automobiles, wearables, and anything else connected to the internet. When you are interacting with a device using the internet, you are essentially uploading a lot of information. For instance, when you are browsing through some products in a shopping portal like Amazon.com, you are essentially marking your preferences. Based on your personal research, location, age and several other factors, Amazon.com will suggest new products the next time you log in. That’s the charm of IoT. For all modern marketers, data is the most important ingredient to success. Since so much information is being uploaded every minute, it is by using IoT that businesses can seek to target better. Companies can take advantage of IoT by coming up with more relevant and effective advertisements for individual customers. The chances of a conversion automatically get higher.

  2. Big Data solutions: To be able to sell products and services, businessmen need to understand who they are selling to. Big Data is a combination of tools that helps them manage huge data sets and understand customer preferences, patterns, and trends better.

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is expected to increase worldwide revenues of global business from $8 billion in 2016 to $47 billion or more by the year 2020, and this encompasses a very broad range of industries. Businesses are now dealing with huge volumes of real-time data to ensure personalised experiences for consumers. New technologies like AI, robotics, machine learning, deep learning, and cognitive computing have been a real driver in this context.

  1. Blockchain: Blockchain database technology is like a digitally distributed ledger which maintains a growing list of records in a decentralised server. The data records kept can be anything ranging from smart contracts to Bitcoins. The main advantage is the encryption and authentication it provides when managing data records. Currently, it’s being used by financial organisations like Swiss Bank UBS and other global banks. However, the implications of the technology are far reaching. In a recent example, Australia Post is developing a technology based on Blockchain to come up with an e-voting system for Victoria State.

  1. Virtual Reality – (VR): As human beings, we like to experience things rather than blindly believe in what is pitched to us. For instance, when you are planning to invest in an estate that is currently under development, you have no way of seeing the end product and so would be apprehensive of any investment. VR solves this! A virtual tour will give you a fair idea of the space and the sales pitch will hold more meaning.

VR is also a multisensory experience where you can emotionally connect with a product or service. Using VR, businesses like are allowing their customers an experience of how new furniture would look and feel in their homes even before they have purchased it. It’s all about engagement. In the future, every business would include VR in their customer engagement process – from marketing to installation and even support and service.

The challenges ahead

Digital transformation for most businesses is probably the next reincarnation of the promises of technology. Most of the digitisation is existent in top companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and the like.

90% of global businesses are still on their way to fully understand the implications and potential of such a transformation.

The first thing that is holding them back is the understanding of how digitisation can improve their business processes. As humans, we are always comfortable with routines and getting out of the comfort zone needs a bigger push than the world just talking about it. Businesses find these technologies too complicated to understand. It is for business leaders to do the research to propagate opportunities in simpler terms to employees.

Apart from that, digitisation does need a substantial amount of investment which most companies aren’t yet ready for.

Also, companies need to hire special expertise to oversee the implementation of the same while overlooking the associated risks.

Andrew MacAfee, from MIT, suggests that, “Find a part of your organisation that’s led by somebody who’s a little bit more comfortable working with data, who’s got a team of geeks that are part of her team and do an experiment about becoming more data-driven in forecasting, in market analysis, in product design and/ or in human capital management. Do an experiment. It’s not going to ruin the company. It’s not going to break the bank. And then learn from it.”

May 19

Freelancing is good for most

 Freelance employment should be used much more by most organisations in sectors which:

  • Need certain specialist skills, but not on a full-time basis

  • Have fluctuating demand patterns making employment of a full-time workforce to supply in good time prohibitively expensive

Using freelance labour (say 20% part-time, 80% full-time) is much like outsourcing some processes – the aim is to reduce an organisation’s costs and improve supply significantly

Some argue that freelance labour need more supervision than full-timers for quality control – not so if carefully selected and managed

Others say they’ll ‘spill the beans’ on company secrets when employed by others, especially the competition, forgetting that the same thinking applies to full-timers when they leave to join such companies

Others claim that freelancers – part-timers, zero-hours subcontractors, associates et alia – are forced to live in poverty, without holiday pay, sick pay or any pension provisions and without knowing whether and how much they might earn from one week to the next – this may be true for some although the State provides many safety nets for those suffering most

What’s not mentioned is that many other freelancers choose to work this way – they prefer fewer hours of work per day or week – it fits better with their chosen lifestyle – and they’re often paid more per day than full-time equivalents as it’s their responsibility to pay not only their income tax and national insurance but also their holiday and sickness time and pension contributions

Given the above applies to many sectors, consider the following article published in SPECTATOR MONEY by Professor Andrew Burke which recommends that: “If you want a better construction sector, support the self-employed”

For a long time, the freelance-heavy construction sector has been one of the focal points for the national debate about self-employment. And with Britain’s housing crisis looming ever-larger, the focus on this vital sector is only intensifying.

That’s why the Centre for Research on Self-Employment (CRSE) commissioned the landmark new report, Freelance Workers in the Construction Industry. You may find the results a little surprising…

There is a growing myth at the moment that the widespread self-employment in the construction sector is somehow harming not only the welfare of construction workers themselves, but also the productivity of the industry as a whole. What this report has shown is just how untrue this is. It has proved beyond doubt that using a freelance-intensive workforce model is better both for many highly skilled construction workers, and for most firms in the industry.

 In terms of worker welfare, as with many other sectors, it is now widely believed that the most vulnerable, lowest-paid workers in construction must be those who are self-employed.

In fact, the report shows that the self-employed contingent of the workforce (roughly half) actually sit in the middle of the scale in terms of economic wellbeing. The least financially secure group in the construction sector is low-skilled employees. In fact, the lowest 40 per cent of earners in the construction industry are predominantly employees.

Drill down into part-time and full-time work and the difference becomes even starker: in every quartile of the part-time workforce, the self-employed are more financially secure. The idea that employment status is what is impeding worker welfare in the construction sector is quite simply the wrong diagnosis.

As the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) pointed out in their Vulnerable Work report, the real problem actually seems to be access to training.

On productivity, the evidence is even clearer. Firms across the construction sector make extensive use of freelance labour, not because they are forced to, but because they understand the productivity boost it offers.

For the report, we spoke to managers from firms right across the construction industry and, again and again, they gave the same reasons for using freelance labour: flexibility and productivity gains.

The managers said that by using freelancers instead of employees for specialist work, they were able to avoid idle, unused downtime. Our research found that by taking on temporary freelancers instead of maintaining full-time employees, firms can make labour cost savings of anywhere between 27 and 86 per cent per project.

As well as avoiding the cost of downtime, the freelance model also allows firms – especially smaller ones – to expand with only limited risk. By using freelancers, they can stop and start projects at short notice, so if they realise they’ve misread the market and experience a sharp drop in demand, they can mothball a project and restart it later without causing long-term problems.

Otherwise, without freelance labour readily available, it would only be construction giants who could readily expand into new projects and absorb the shock of failure. Freelance workers therefore also drive up productivity by boosting competition – allowing smaller firms to compete with the titans of the industry.

Ultimately then, as the public eye draws in and pressure grows on the construction sector, there is one clear way to improve it: legitimise and enable its self-employed workers.

Our report has clearly shown that not only is self-employment a positive financial choice for construction workers; the flexibility freelancers provide is also a powerful productivity boost for the sector.

This crucial productivity boost also reduces the price of homes and other buildings by keeping labour costs approximately 40 per cent lower than they would be with an employee-only model.

Professor Andrew Burke is Chairperson of the Centre for Research on Self-Employment, London, and Dean of Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin.

 

May 19

UK works longer hours than EU

Of the 168 hours in any week, the average person works (on tasks she needs to be paid for) around 40 hours of that time

An average worker’s hourly breakdown per week is guestimated to be 30% work-related/ 70% home related viz:

  • 40 (24%) = Work

  • 10 (6%) = Commute to/ from work

  • 60 (35%) = Home – Sleep

  • 58 (35%) = Home – Leisure

However, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical arm, Britons work more hours than anyone else in Europe

The only other major economy where people work more than 40 hours a week is Germany

Over all major EU economies, Eurostat claim the average hours worked per individual per week is:

  • 42.3 Britain

  • 40.4 Germany

  • 39.9 Spain

  • 39.2 Belgium

  • 39.0 Netherlands

  • 39.0 France

  • 38.8 Italy

They also say British workers have maintained their working hours over the years since the recession struck in 2008, against a decline in most other major EU economies

First reactions to such data are:

  • All the above totals, except the UK’s, seem so close to be little different

  • One questions the basis of such statistics given the broad mix of employee jobs and their contracts – paid by the hour, weekly or salaried – repetitive or varied – brawn or brain inputs required

  • Such totals are irrelevant to brainworkers, managers and many salaried staff who don’t switch on at 0900 and off at 1700 each workday but often take their work and problems home and dwell on them, even when asleep

  • Keynes’s prediction that we’d all be working just 15 hours per week may have come true already for many workers – but they pad their productive hours with necessary relaxation time to refresh their brawn and/ or brain cells

Nevertheless, one wonders why Britain tops such a table:

  • We know France has been bound by legislation limiting their official working week since the 1990s – and this has widespread support despite current attempts by President Macron at reform

  • We also know the EU has imposed a Working Time Directive that says no-one should work more than 48 hours per week, much to the irritation of the UK

  • But they provide no obvious answer

Maybe UK employees need more recovery time whilst at work?

All one can say is there’s clearly plenty of work on offer in the UK, and plenty of people willing to input the hours apparently needed to complete it – and the latter is no doubt influenced by average UK wages rising so little over the last decade as profits made were channelled more to capital owners’ pockets than the workers who produced them

 So let economist Ruth Lea have the last word here: “Britain has a very flexible labour market, with a very good record of finding ways for people to work part-time – the hours that people work are almost entirely voluntary and, for the most part, people do the hours they want to

May 07

Mental world – Changes ahead?

  • Some say we won’t need to buy anything in future – we won’t own a thing

  • Indeed, according to Trip Adler, founder of Scribd, a book and newspaper subscription service:

    • “In future, you’ll just pay one thing and then have total freedom to consume what you want”

    • Netflix for video, Amazon for shopping, Spotify for music

    • Buying stuff will become ‘old hat’

    • Companies will sell access, not products, in future – via the internet

    • Fixation with ownership will crumble as new generations emerge

    • Why buy a newspaper when you can read the news on your phone, for free

    • Cars could be next

    • Most cars sit idle for over 95% of the time, and most people prefer it that way rather than car-share – but times may change this – many already hire or hire theirs out

    • Overall, people will question what is a product and where does its value lie

Quite how economies will clock such changes is unclear, especially given GDP is already a significantly flawed statistic

This could have major impIications for national political parties

In the UK, some say:

  • The Conservative party focus on growing the national wealth pie – and the only way to do that is to encourage the private sector to grow more

  • The Labour party focus on new ways to slice it

So a dose of one party, then the other, might the best way to improve the standard of living of more and more of the UK population

But if nobody buys or owns anything, it might be difficult to establish just how big any national wealth pie is in the first place

May 05

The bullsh**t job phenomenon

According to The Times, in 2013 David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the LSE, created quite a stir when he wrote an article about people in meaningless jobs with meaningless titles in meaningless industries – since followed up by his book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

It prompted a YouGov poll which established that 37% of British workers believe their job makes no meaningful contribution

If you’re a doctor, farmer or mechanic, there’s a strong chance that your skills are still worthwhile – but if you’re a recruitment consultant, corporate lawyer, railway executive, HR specialist, e-commerce manager or work in financial services, or write clever articles for publications that never get read, only binned, your skills are not essential

And, if you’re not sure whether you have a bullshit job, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • What would happen if your job disappeared overnight?

  • How succinctly does your mother describe your job to her friends – the more important it is, the easier she will find it?

It’s all John Maynard Keynes’s fault – eight decades ago, he predicted that technology would allow us all to work 15-hour weeks – and to some extent he was right

The vast majority of (important) farming, industrial and manufacturing jobs have become automated – yet rather than getting the leisure-based lives dreamt of, we have been shepherded into a rat-run of non-essential admin or ancillary industries PURELY TO KEEP US BUSY

Graeber says this is because:

  • “The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger”

  • And “society feels that work has a moral value in itself, and anyone not willing to work deserves nothing”

  • So jobs are less careers and more occupations, keeping us occupied and ensuring none of us gets any ideas above our station

Sadly, most holders of these meaningless jobs know how little they contribute to the world

Hence, a new way of thinking is needed to free many from the tyranny of bureaucracy and allow us the leisure-first future that Keynes dreamt of – but maybe most will just ‘stick’, take the money and continue to live meaningless lives?

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