From the August 2010 Issue
For a number of reasons, achieving the perfect balance between implementing or improving technology, and finding success in all areas related to staffing for that technology, is rare.
Vendors and users can, and certainly do, work together for long-term results. However, one too many variables, combined with somewhat disparate agendas between the firms and the vendors, leads to huge states of confusion. Combine that with sometimes uncontrollable circumstances related to firm networks and vendor systems, and you have the makings of what weather watchers call a perfect storm.
I sat down with three experts who have experience in staffing and technology to find out what’s working, current and future trends, and even a bit about the Millennial generation. Participant of this roundtable included the following individuals:
Jim Fahey is the information/project director for Hill Barth & King LLC, in Boardman, Ohio. HBK is a full-service firm with offices throughout Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Erik Kaas is director of Product Management for Sage ERP in Richmond, BC, Canada. Sage ERP is part of the international Sage family. Brett Owens is co-founder and chief executive officer of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of software that records activity in real time.
SCOTT CYTRON: As technology continues to become more efficient, it seems logical that a firm’s staffing needs might change, e.g., staff would be diverted to other duties or be eliminated altogether. So far, what trends are you seeing or hearing from others to indicate this may or may not be the case?
BRETT OWENS: Something really interesting is taking place right now in the world of software. In particular, it’s actually starting to work like it should, probably for the first time ever. What I mean is that we’ve had software in the workplace for decades now, and it’s definitely been a boon to productivity. There’s no doubt about that. BUT it’s required a lot of work to set up, install, configure and train users.
We’ve had a lot of staffing at firms, including internal IT staff and external consultants, dedicated to smoothing out the implementation and deployment of software tools — essentially finagling these systems to make them work, or at least sort of work — and then train users.
I’d expect these types of positions will decrease in importance and quantity now that software is quickly advancing to the point where it actually works like it should right off the bat. Equally as important, software is intuitive; users do not need to attend training in order to figure out how to use it.
A broader trend is that as software continues to advance, it should be able to automate more and more processes that, today, require human intervention. This could be report compiling and data crunching — things that may require a human being today. Tomorrow, you might have a piece of software that can do it automatically.
ERIK KAAS: As more functions get automated through technology, especially in the back office operations of a company, specific tasks are “automated away.” However, in most cases, rather than resulting in a reduction in labor, this results in employees being able to focus more on different tasks that add more value. For example, instead of spending time on data entry, financial staff can focus on analyzing data. This is especially true for small and medium-sized business. For these companies, investing in technology is often a “must” to enable them to grow.
In larger organizations, we do see that certain staff can get eliminated based on automation. For example, organizations with many data-entry clerks can reduce the number of clerks required to enter and manage invoices if the process is more streamlined. The investment in technology is often directly justified based on the ROI obtained from salary savings in the long term.