Business services face a challenging environment. Margins continue to be under increasing pressure from rising labour costs, and competition is intensifying. Productivity growth is also relatively weak, especially for some jobs in cleaning, call centres and security. A key part of future success in business services is using the latest technology to transform operations.
While the use of digital technology is ubiquitous in today’s society and integral to how people run their personal lives, Deloitte research shows that businesses are generally behind the curve in adopting it in their operations. Our latest Connected Worker research found that 13 per cent of business services workers do not use any digital devices for work and 45 per cent of manual workers in the sector report using very little technology.
Increasing adoption of technology in business services could help boost productivity. Our survey revealed that almost half of the workers mention technology issues as their top reason for lack of productivity. Additionally, workers estimate they lose 10 minutes per hour during their working day due to lack of effective technology in the workplace.
At a company level, greater use of technology should be considered across different functions and parts of the business. For example, using sensors in washrooms means that cleaners can only attend to those that need cleaning and supplies restocked, rather than spending time checking each one.
The majority of administrative tasks are also currently carried out manually rather than digitally. Over half of those surveyed stated they manually fill in forms, reports and timesheets. Documents such as timesheets are crucial to businesses. They are used for a range of purposes from pricing to billing clients, but completing them manually not only risks errors but also adds unnecessary time and costs as supervisors and managers have to input data into systems, rather than the workers doing it directly.
Technology is not only a tool for improving efficiency; it should be used to better engage with staff. Our findings showed that employees are eager to use more technology to access work-related information, and also communicate with their employer. This could include checking the company’s sickness policy or being able to swap shifts online, releasing line manager time to focus on more value-adding activities. Nearly half of the respondents said that using more technology for gaining information and communicating would make them feel more positive about their work. The demand from workers to have technology at their fingertips is already apparent, with eight in 10 workers choosing to use their own devices to compensate for the lack of technology provided by their employer.
Our research shows that the most common reason for businesses not to invest in technology is the lack of a budget. However, those deciding not to invest in technology risk being competitively left behind. More efficient companies will be able to set new parameters for both pricing and quality of services which might be unattainable for businesses that stick to traditional methods.
The lack of a sizeable technology budget should not dampen the ambition of a business to add more technology to their operations. Companies should consider a range of technologies, including more affordable solutions such as open source tools or app based solutions. Use of agile delivery methods to drive early returns on investment and working with technology vendors to identify different commercial models to better manage upfront costs.
Our report includes various examples of how greater use of technology and new devices can help the businesses collect critical data that empowers employees to make educated, fact-based decisions that reduce costs in the long term. For instance, the use of sensors in bins help to identify bins that need to be emptied and then optimise the routes of bin lorries, reducing the number of vehicles in use, the associated costs whilst having a positive environmental impact.
Therefore, companies that use technology to reduce effort, alleviate pain points for workers and analyse data to make better operational decisions will reap the benefits, both commercially and from a staff-retention perspective. The time to innovate is now.
James Yearsley is a partner at Deloitte