Computerworld interviews the authors of Information, Technology and Information Worker Productivity: Task Level Evidence, research on the value of IT in terms of productivity. Looks like some interesting though easily misinterpreted results (especially around multi-tasking). How IT Makes Johnny More Productive:
In the past decade, studies have shown that IT leads to increased corporate productivity, but until recently, no one had measured how it affects work at the individual desktop level. Marshall Van Alstyne and co- authors Sinan Aral and Erik Brynjolfsson recently completed a five-year study analyzing 1,300 projects and 125,000 e-mails to see how IT affects individual productivity. (The National Science Foundation, Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corp. sponsored their work.) In December, their research won the award for best paper at the International Conference on Information Systems, the largest academic IT conference in the world. Van Alstyne talked with Kathleen Melymuka about the authors’ initial findings.
The interview mentions two topics that are near to my heart: multi-tasking and social network analysis. On the multi-tasking side, the authors found that there is an optimal amount of multi-tasking that workers absorb: too much and they bog down all their work; too little and they are under-utilized (by measure of productivity). Beware that this is not the kind of work-shifting multi-tasking that is the bane of any work: it is an acknowledgment that much knowledge work requires interaction with others and has many "activity holes" in the course of waiting for responses from others.
On the SNA side, they found that those workers who have a high degree of "betweenness" are more productive. More interestingly, they intend to dig into the idea that those with a wider network (high reach) have access to wider variety of information and might have a higher correlation with productivity.
For those who want to full details, the paper is available for free. The authors are at Boston University (Marshall Van Alstyne), MIT (Erik Brynjolfsson), and NYU (Sinan Aral). The abstract reads thusly:
In an effort to reveal the fine-grained relationships between IT use, patterns of information flows, and individual information-worker productivity, we study task level practices at a midsize executive recruiting firm. We analyze both project-level and individual-level performance using: (1) detailed accounting data on revenues, compensation, project completion rates, and team membership for over 1300 projects spanning 5 years, (2) direct observation of over 125,000 e-mail messages over a period of 10 months by individual workers, and (3) data on a matched set of the same workers' self-reported IT skills, IT use and information sharing. These detailed data permit us to econometrically evaluate a multistage model of production and interaction activities at the firm, and to analyze the relationships among key technologies, work practices, and output. We find that (a) IT use is positively correlated with non-linear drivers of productivity; (b) the structure and size of workers' communication networks are highly correlated with performance; (c) an inverted-U shaped relationship exists between multitasking and productivity such that, beyond an optimum, more multitasking is associated with declining project completion rates and revenue generation; and (d) asynchronous information seeking such as email and database use promotes multitasking while synchronous information seeking over the phone shows a negative correlation. Overall, these data show statistically significant relationships among technology use, social networks, completed projects, and revenues for project-based information workers. Results are consistent with simple models of queuing and multitasking and these methods can be replicated in other settings, suggesting new frontiers for IT value and social network research.
[Discovered via Tom Mandel at the Connectbeam blog.]