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Ready, Willing, and Enabled
Neelam Dhawan
Monday, March 3, 2008
The last few decades have seen a phenomenal change in the way we live and work. Everything is faster, better, and ‘more’ – an era of unprecedented global economic expansion that, The Economist magazine noted, “Could witness the fastest growth in average world income in the whole of history.”

The driving force behind this change, of course, is the dramatic advances in digital technology that have given us new ways to communicate, to create and share information, and to work seamlessly with colleagues, partners, and customers worldwide. However, there is an ongoing global debate around the role that information technology plays in creating economic opportunities and business success. While many believe that IT does not matter and its influence and impact are exaggerated, there exist strong proponents of IT who firmly believe that it is the essential engine of progress.

At Microsoft, while we do believe in the implicit importance of IT, we also comprehend that its influence can either be enhanced or mitigated in an organization by the attitude and acceptance it secures from the company’s employees, who ultimately determine whether a business thrives or fails. It has therefore been our consistent endeavor to marry these truths and demonstrate how IT can become a significant tool for enhancing employee performance and productivity. So, we at Microsoft have built our company — and our products for businesses — on an approach that recognizes that business success depends on the thousands of decisions employees make every day. Our business software is designed specifically to enable employees to use their knowledge of customers, markets, and operations to make informed decisions that create strategic business advantage. We call this approach “People Ready Business”.

A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the business research and advisory organization founded by The Economist more than 60 years ago, provides new validation for this approach. Based on a survey of 1,351 senior executives across the world, the study offers compelling evidence that there is a positive correlation between business success and the use of IT to enable employees to optimize decision-making and act autonomously. According to the study, in India 89 percent of respondents believe that ‘enablement’ of employees is critical to their business function. Trends across the globe are similar. Sponsored by Microsoft, the study set out to determine how “enablement” — which the Economist Intelligence Unit defines as the “organizational structures, informational technologies, and other resources that let employees make decisions” — contributes to profitable growth.

In India, for instance, one of the interesting examples is that of the Centurion Bank of Punjab which effectively used technology to help its people share client data across multiple teams for more informed decision-making. Leveraging technology, employees have been able to gain a better understanding of customer segments as a result of better management of customer data. Similarly, Wipro Technologies has been able to expedite strategic decision-making, lower infrastructure costs, secure remote access, and ensure better management by deploying our technology for data warehousing, business intelligence, and reporting purposes.

In fact, the Economist Intelligence Unit concluded, “Firms which embrace information technology to allow rapid collaboration can benefit from their employees’ collective knowledge, improving the performance of individuals as well as that of the organization overall.” The study also found that 58 percent of respondents who use collaborative software work for firms with revenue growth stronger than that of their competitors. According to the report’s authors, “Statistical analysis demonstrates the positive association between enablement and self-reported company performance, be it in profitability, revenue growth, tangible assets, or strategic success. The evidence is strong and consistent across dozens of significant variables.” The report also reveals that in many companies, there is a significant “Enablement gap” and despite organizations having a high degree of enablement, few employees have the requisite IT tools or the information they require.

What this underlines is that businesses overall are, by and large, still in the early stages of IT adoption and deployment despite the fantastic progress we have seen in research and innovation in pure technology. Clearly, this is an opportunity for Information Technology companies, but calls for an essential paradigm shift, wherein the user needs to be placed at the center of the computing experience. Technology should be easy to use, easy to learn, simple to manage, and help the end user at any level within the organization to do his job better. No doubt, it should also save costs by optimum usage of resources, and have a clear impact on the company’s

Thus, by making businesses ‘people ready’ the technology industry is only now beginning to unleash the transformational power of information technology in the workplace. A new generation of software innovations is making computing more powerful, more affordable, and much more people friendly. Software touches processes central to the businesses such as operations, customer acquisition and retention, supply and partner management, and product and service development. The overall orientation of the software strategy - either system-centric or people-centric - can determine the kind of competitive advantage and future flexibility a business will realize as a result of its investment. It also recognizes the blurring lines between the workplace and home and the need for software for an ‘always on, always connected’ environment.

The author is Managing Director, Microsoft India:

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