How to Leverage the Coming Backlash Against Personal Productivity Software

By Geoffrey James

Software sales is a zero-sum game. The money a company spends on one technology isn’t going toward another one. That’s why new software sales opportunities open up when a technology falls out of favor or begins to take on an aura of being more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Something of that sort has been happening lately in the area of personal productivity applications. According to a little-publicized study from Microsoft, today’s workers believe they are working longer hours but, despite technology, are actually less productive than they were before. Considering the source, it’s not surprising that the study suggests the solution to the productivity lag is more technology. Many IT professionals, however, are likely to conclude that throwing more personal productivity automation software into the workplace to achieve productivity might be akin to trying to extinguish a fire by dousing it with gasoline.

According to the Microsoft study, office employees in the United States work an average of 45 hours a week, and consider about 16 of those hours to be unproductive. Respondents cited unclear priorities, procrastination and lack of team communication as reasons behind the lack of productivity. The study also found that on average workers spend 5.6 hours in meetings each week. Not surprisingly, 69% of those polled feel meetings aren’t productive. What is surprising is that respondents didn’t cite email as a productivity drain, even though the study revealed that U.S. workers receive an average of 56 email messages per day. At an average of 5 minutes spent on each message, however, that would be about 4.5 hours spent reading email every day!

Needless to say, personal productivity software was supposed to enhance team communication, help management set priorities and make information and employee activity more timely. Email also was supposed to save time rather than tie employees to their email screens. CIOs already have identified computer viruses and spam as major problems. It is only a matter of time before many of them conclude that it might make sense to stop investing massively in personal productivity applications if that technology isn’t delivering as promised.

The failure of personal productivity software opens up an opportunity for software sales reps who focus on vertical industry applications and back-office technologies such as CRM and ERP. Unlike personal productivity, such enterprisewide applications have a long track record of achieving significant ROI. If you’re selling this kind of software, now would be an excellent time to remind CIOs that your products are delivering the goods while personal productivity technologies are not. Remind them of the paperless office – that’s always good for a chuckle. Bring your CIO customers to the realization that it makes more sense to spend money on your software than to make the traditional yearly investments in faster PCs and the personal productivity software that runs on them.

Another opportunity exists for software sales reps who sell front-office applications that emphasize group productivity rather than personal productivity. In this case, the hot areas for software sales are workflow, file sharing, document management, meeting management and time management.

The above is based on the Microsoft report and numerous interviews with high-tech executives, analysts and pundits.